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Keywords:

  • population structure;
  • dispersal;
  • isolation by distance;
  • habitat fragmentation;
  • European wood mouse;
  • small mammals;
  • Apodemus sylvaticus

Abstract

We examined the genetic structure of natural populations of the European wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus at the microgeographic (<3 km) and macrogeographic (>30 km) scales. Ecological and behavioural studies indicate that this species exhibits considerable dispersal relative to its home-range size. Thus, there is potential for high gene flow over larger geographic areas. As levels of population genetic structure are related to gene flow, we hypothesized that population genetic structuring at the microgeographic level should be negligible, increasing only with geographic distance. To test this, four sites were sampled within a microgeographic scale with two additional samples at the macrogeographic level. Individuals (n=415) were screened and analysed for seven polymorphic microsatellite loci. Contrary to our hypothesis, significant levels of population structuring were detected at both scales. Comparing genetic differentiation with geographic distance suggests increasing genetic isolation with distance. However, this distance effect was non-significant being confounded by surprisingly high levels of differentiation among microgeographic samples. We attribute this pattern of genetic differentiation to the effect of habitat fragmentation, splitting large populations into components with small effective population sizes resulting in enhanced genetic drift. Our results indicate that it is incorrect to assume genetic homogeneity among populations even where there is no evidence of physical barriers and dispersal can occur freely. In the case of A. sylvaticus, it is not clear whether dispersal does not occur across habitat barriers or behavioural dispersal occurs without consequent gene flow.