Assessing the robustness of networks of spatial genetic variation


  • Invited manuscript for the Ecology Letters' special issue on the Ecological Effects of Environmental Change.

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Habitat transformation is one of the leading drivers of biodiversity loss. The ecological effects of this transformation have mainly been addressed at the demographic level, for example, finding extinction thresholds. However, interpopulation genetic variability and the subsequent potential for adaptation can be eroded before effects are noticed on species abundances. To what degree this is the case has been difficult to evaluate, partly because of the lack of both spatially extended genetic data and an appropriate framework to map and analyse such data. Here, we extend recent work on the analysis of networks of spatial genetic variation to address the robustness of these networks in the face of perturbations. We illustrate the potential of this framework using the case study of an amphibian metapopulation. Our results show that while the disappearance of some spatial sites barely changes the modular structure of the genetic network, other sites have a much stronger effect. Interestingly, these consequences can not be anticipated using topological, static measures. Mapping these networks of spatial genetic variation will allow identifying significant evolutionary units and how they vanish, merge and reorganise following perturbations.