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From connectivity to isolation: genetic consequences of population fragmentation in capercaillie across Europe

Authors


G. Segelbacher. Max Planck Research for Ornithology. Fax: +49 7732 150169; E-mail: segelbacher@vowa.ornithol.mpg.de

Abstract

The capercaillie inhabits a continuous range in large parts of the Palearctic boreal forest, but is patchily distributed in temperate Europe. An ongoing population decline, largely related to human land use changes, has been most pronounced in central and western Europe, where some local populations have become extinct. In this study, we document the genetic differentiation of capercaillie populations at different stages along a gradient of spatial structuring from high connectivity (continuous range in the boreal forest) to a metapopulation systems (Alps) and recent (central Europe) and historic (Pyrenees) isolation. Four hundred and sixty individuals from 14 sample sites were genotyped at 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci to assess genetic structure and variation of capercaillie populations across its European range. As expected, differentiation was least pronounced within the continuous range in the boreal forest. Within the metapopulation system of the Alps, differentiation was less than among the isolated populations of central Europe (Black Forest, Fichtelgebirge, Thuringia, Vosges). In the long-isolated population of the Pyrenees, and the recently isolated populations of central Europe, genetic diversity was significantly reduced compared with the Alps and boreal forest. Our results agree with the concept of a gradual increase in genetic differentiation from connectivity to isolation, and from recent to historic isolation. Anthropogenic habitat deterioration and fragmentation thus not only leads to range contractions and extinctions, but may also have significant genetic and evolutionary consequences for surviving populations. To maintain high levels of genetic variation in species in fragmented habitats, conservation should aim at securing connectivity between spatially distinct populations.

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