• habitat fragmentation;
  • microsatellites;
  • sex-biased dispersal;
  • spatial genetic structure;
  • Sphenodon punctatus;
  • tuatara


Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation — ubiquitous in modern ecosystems — has strong impacts on gene flow and genetic population structure. Reptiles may be particularly susceptible to the effects of fragmentation because of their extreme sensitivity to environmental conditions and limited dispersal. We investigate fine-scale spatial genetic structure, individual relatedness, and sex-biased dispersal in a large population of a long-lived reptile (tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus) on a recently fragmented island. We genotyped individuals from remnant forest, regenerating forest, and grassland pasture sites at seven microsatellite loci and found significant genetic structuring (RST = 0.012) across small distances (< 500 m). Isolation by distance was not evident, but rather, genetic distance was weakly correlated with habitat similarity. Only individuals in forest fragments were correctly assignable to their site of origin, and individual pairwise relatedness in one fragment was significantly higher than expected. We did not detect sex-biased dispersal, but natural dispersal patterns may be confounded by fragmentation. Assignment tests showed that reforestation appears to have provided refuges for tuatara from disturbed areas. Our results suggest that fine-scale genetic structuring is driven by recent habitat modification and compounded by the sedentary lifestyle of these long-lived reptiles. Extreme longevity, large population size, simple social structure and random dispersal are not strong enough to counteract the genetic structure caused by a sedentary lifestyle. We suspect that fine-scale spatial genetic structuring could occur in any sedentary species with limited dispersal, making them more susceptible to the effects of fragmentation.