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Isolated in an ocean of grass: low levels of gene flow between termite subpopulations


Correspondence: Anna M. Schmidt, Fax: +49 541 969 286 2; E-mail:


Habitat fragmentation is one of the most important causes of biodiversity loss, but many species are distributed in naturally patchy habitats. Such species are often organized in highly dynamic metapopulations or in patchy populations with high gene flow between subpopulations. Yet, there are also species that exist in stable patchy habitats with small subpopulations and presumably low dispersal rates. Here, we present population genetic data for the ‘magnetic’ termite Amitermes meridionalis, which show that short distances between subpopulations do not hinder exceptionally strong genetic differentiation (FST: 0.339; RST: 0.636). Despite the strong genetic differentiation between subpopulations, we did not find evidence for genetic impoverishment. We propose that loss of genetic diversity might be counteracted by a long colony life with low colony turnover. Indeed, we found evidence for the inheritance of colonies by so-called ‘replacement reproductives’. Inhabiting a mound for several generations might result in loss of gene diversity within a colony but maintenance of gene diversity at the subpopulation level.