Habitat fragmentation and genetic diversity of an endangered, migratory songbird, the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia)


Denise L. Lindsay, Fax: +1-601-634-4017; E-mail: denise.l.lindsay@usace.army.mil


Landscape genetic approaches offer the promise of increasing our understanding of the influence of habitat features on genetic structure. We assessed the genetic diversity of the endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) across their breeding range in central Texas and evaluated the role of habitat loss and fragmentation in shaping the population structure of the species. We determined genotypes across nine microsatellite loci of 109 individuals from seven sites representing the major breeding concentrations of the species. No evidence of a recent population bottleneck was found. Differences in allele frequencies were highly significant among sites. The sampled sites do not appear to represent isolated lineages requiring protection as separate management units, although the amount of current gene flow is insufficient to prevent genetic differentiation. Measures of genetic differentiation were negatively associated with habitat connectivity and the percentage of forest cover between sites, and positively associated with geographic distance and the percentage of agricultural land between sites. The northernmost site was the most genetically differentiated and was isolated from other sites by agricultural lands. Fragmentation of breeding habitat may represent barriers to dispersal of birds which would pose no barrier to movement during other activities such as migration.