1. Determined by landscape structure as well as dispersal-related traits of species, connectivity influences various key aspects of population biology, ranging from population persistence to genetic structure and diversity. Here, we investigated differences in small-scale connectivity in terms of gene flow between populations of two ecologically important invertebrates with contrasting dispersal-related traits: an amphipod (Gammarus fossarum) with a purely aquatic life cycle and a mayfly (Baetis rhodani) with a terrestrial adult stage.
2. We used highly polymorphic markers to estimate genetic differentiation between populations of both species within a Swiss pre-alpine catchment and compared these results to the broader-scale genetic structure within the Rhine drainage. Landscape genetic approaches were used to test for correlations of genetic and geographical structures and in-stream barrier effects.
3. We found overall very weak genetic structure in populations of B. rhodani. In contrast, G. fossarum showed strong genetic differentiation, even at spatial scales of a few kilometres, and a clear pattern of isolation by distance. Genetic diversity decreased from downstream towards upstream populations of G. fossarum, suggesting asymmetric gene flow. Correlation of genetic structure with landscape topography was more pronounced in the amphipod. Our study also indicates that G. fossarum might be capable of dispersing overland in headwater regions and of crossing small in-stream barriers.
4. We speculate that differences in dispersal capacity but also habitat specialisation and potentially the extent of local adaptation could be responsible for the differences in genetic differentiation found between the two species. These results highlight the importance of taking into account dispersal-related traits when planning management and conservation strategies.