1. The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) on the Iberian Peninsula is only distributed in freshwater habitats and has completely disappeared from most of its range, mainly as a consequence of habitat degradation and invasive fish introductions. Genetic investigations have shown that Mediterranean-Adriatic sticklebacks constitute an evolutionarily significant unit. Here, we present the first genetic data for Iberian populations living on the southern edge of the stickleback’s range. We used microsatellite markers to study gene diversity, population structure and genetic demography of stickleback populations.
2. High genetic differentiation among collections yielded a model of four genetically homogeneous units related to geography. The observed pattern of isolation by distance resulted mainly from the hydrographical pattern and limited gene flow among rivers. Moreover, low levels of gene diversity, high isolation and recent bottleneck events, which have led to small or even critical effective population sizes in several locations, could be explained by additional recent anthropogenic fragmentation.
3. We defined at least four evolutionarily significant units threatened by habitat fragmentation in north-eastern Iberian sticklebacks. Because they retain long evolutionary histories, these populations should be considered of high conservation priority, and urgent management measures should be implemented.