• Bottleneck;
  • conservation;
  • gene flow;
  • genetic diversity;
  • microsatellite;
  • Odonata;
  • voltinism

Abstract.  1. Good conservation management is underpinned by a thorough understanding of species' historical and contemporary dispersal capabilities along with the possible adaptive or neutral processes behind any spatio-temporal genetic structuring. These issues are investigated with respect to the rare damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale (Charpentier) – the only odonate species currently listed in the U.K.'s Biodiversity Action Plan – in east Devon where its distribution has become fragmented.

2. The two east Devon C. mercuriale populations, only 3.5 km apart, have accumulated strong differences in frequencies of alleles at 14 microsatellite loci as a consequence of poor adult dispersal and drift. There is no contemporary migration between sites.

3. A genetic signature of population decline at both sites corresponds with known demographic reductions. Coenagrion mercuriale in east Devon are now significantly genetically less diverse than those from a population stronghold in the Itchen Valley.

4. Colonies would benefit from improved connectivity between areas and possibly by a transfer of individuals from other ecologically similar areas.

5. Because C. mercuriale has a semivoltine life cycle throughout the U.K., the possibility that alternate-year cohorts are reproductively isolated is explored. Genetic differentiation among cohorts is an order of magnitude less than between sites, suggesting that some larvae delay their development into adults for a year and recruit to a different cohort.

6. To our knowledge, this is the first study to document migration and gene flow between alternate-year cohorts in a species of odonate. From a conservation standpoint, the cohorts do not require separate management.