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Habitat connectivity and corridors are often assumed to be critical for the persistence of patchily distributed populations, but empirical evidence for this assumption is scarce. We assessed the importance of connectivity among habitat patches for dispersal by a mature-forest obligate, the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus). Boreal Owls demonstrated a lack of genetic structure (theta = 0.004 +/- 0.002 [SE]) among subpopulations, regardless of matrix type and extent, which indicates that unforested matrix does not act as a barrier to dispersal for this vagile species. We found only slightly higher genetic distances (Cavalli-Sforza chord distances ranged from 0.015 to 0.025) among patchily distributed Rocky Mountain subpopulations as compared with largely contiguous boreal-forest subpopulations (0.013 to 0.019) and no evidence of a genetic split across the expansive high plains of Wyoming. Even the most isolated subalpine patches are connected via gene flow. As northern boreal forests continue to experience intensive harvest of mature stands, geographic dispersion of Boreal Owl habitat may begin to more closely resemble that found in the Rocky Mountains. We suggest that decreased connectivity poses much less of a threat to continued abundance of this mature-forest obligate than overall loss of nesting and foraging habitat. Assessment of the importance of corridors and connectivity should be conducted on a species-by-species basis, given the variation in response of species to discontinuity of habitat, even among closely related taxa or guilds.

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Published as Marni E. Koopman, Gregory D. Hayward, David B. McDonald, and K. Winker, The Auk Apr 2007 : Vol. 124, Issue 2, pg(s) 690-704. © 2007 by The American Ornithologists' Union. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by The American Ornithologists' Union for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on JSTOR or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center,

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