Date of Award

January 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Brian J. Darby


Understanding movement patterns across a landscape is an essential tool for wildlife managers to understand and predict population dynamics, interactions, and susceptibility to disease and environmental changes. Part of this is due to population spatial synchrony being driven by three primary factors: dispersal, the “Moran Effect”, and trophic interactions. We seek to understand if dispersal may play a larger role in population synchrony and, if so, what landscape features may hinder the movement of muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), a small semiaquatic mammal that relies on ditches and shallow wetlands for habitat and local movement. In this study we genotyped eleven microsatellite loci in over 400 muskrats across the state to determine relatedness of individuals and if population genetic structure indicates candidate barriers to movement in the landscape, such as watershed boundaries or major riverways. Five population subgroups emerged, largely representing the watersheds from which the samples were collected (Devil’s Lake watershed, Red River Valley watershed, James River watershed, and Missouri River watershed), and this is consistent with the working theory that watershed boundaries may form a landscape feature that limits muskrat movement.