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Climate induced changes in matrix suitability explain gene flow in a fragmented landscape – the effect of interannual rainfall variability


N. Blaum, Univ. of Potsdam, Dept of Plant Ecology and Conservation Biology, Maulbeerallee 2, DE-14469 Potsdam, Germany. E-mail:


In fragmented landscapes, the survival of species and the maintenance of populations with healthy genetic structures will largely depend on movement/dispersal of organisms across matrix areas. In this article, we highlight that effects of fragmentation and climate change occur simultaneously and may enhance or mitigate each other. We systematically analyzed the effect of increasing interannual variation in rainfall on the genetic structure of two neighbouring small mammal subpopulations in a fragmented savanna landscape. The effect of interannual rainfall variation is analyzed for two contrasting scenarios that differ in mean annual rainfall and are both close to a dispersal threshold. Scenario 1 (low mean annual rainfall) lies slightly below this threshold and scenario 2 (high mean annual rainfall) slightly above, i.e. the amount of rainfall in an average rainfall year prevents dispersal in scenario 1, but promotes gene flow in scenario 2. We show that the temporal dynamics of the matrix was crucial for gene flow and the genetic structure of the neighbouring small mammal subpopulations. The most important result is that the increase in rainfall variability could both increase and decrease the genetic difference between the subpopulations in a complex pattern, depending on the scenario and on the amount of variation in rainfall. Finally, we discuss that the relevance of the matrix as temporarily suitable habitat may become a key aspect for biodiversity conservation. We conclude to incorporate temporal changes in matrix suitability in metapopulation theory since local extinctions, gene flow and re-colonization are likely to be affected in fragmented landscapes with such dynamic matrix areas.