1. Habitat fragmentation has been implicated as a primary cause for the ongoing erosion of global biodiversity, yet our understanding of the consequences in lotic systems is limited for many species and regions. Because of harsh environmental conditions that select for high colonisation rates, prairie stream fishes may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of fragmentation. Hence, there is urgent need for broader understanding of fragmentation in prairie streams such that meaningful conservation strategies can be developed. Further, examination at large spatial scales, including multiple impoundments and un-impounded catchments, will help identify the spatial extent of species movement through the landscape.
2. Our study used data from 10 microsatellite loci to describe the genetic structure of creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus) populations across four catchments (three impounded and one un-impounded) in the Kansas River basin. We investigated whether genetic diversity was eroded in response to habitat fragmentation imposed by reservoirs and whether intervening lentic habitat increased resistance to dispersal among sites within a catchment.
3. Our analyses revealed that genetic diversity estimates were consistent with large populations regardless of the location of the sampled tributaries, and there was little evidence of recent population reductions. Nevertheless, we found a high degree of spatial genetic structure, suggesting that catchments comprise a set of isolated genetic units and that sample sites within catchments are subdivided into groups largely defined by intervening habitat type. Our data therefore suggest that lentic habitat is a barrier to dispersal among tributaries, thus reducing the opportunity for genetic rescue of populations in tributaries draining into reservoirs. Isolation by a reservoir, however, may not be immediately deleterious if the isolated tributary basin supports a large population.