, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 671-681

Strongly diverging population genetic patterns of three skipper species: the role of habitat fragmentation and dispersal ability

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Abstract

The fragmentation of landscapes has an important impact on the conservation of biodiversity, and the genetic diversity is an important factor for a populations viability, influenced by the landscape structure. However, different species with differing ecological demands react rather different on the same landscape pattern. To address this feature, we studied three skipper species with differing habitat requirements (Lulworth Skipper Thymelicus acteon: a habitat specialist with low dispersal ability, Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris: a habitat generalist with low dispersal ability, Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola: a habitat generalist with higher dispersal ability). We analysed 18 allozyme loci for 1,063 individuals in our western German study region with adjoining areas in Luxembourg and north-eastern France. The genetic diversity of all three species were intermediate in comparison with other butterfly species. The F ST was relatively high for T. acteon (5.1%), low for T. sylvestris (1.6%) and not significant for T. lineola. Isolation by distance analyses revealed a significant correlation for T. sylvestris explaining 20.3% of its differentiation, but no such structure was found for the two other species. Most likely, the high dispersal ability of T. lineola in comparison with T. sylvestris leads to a more or less panmictic structure and hence impedes isolation by distance. On the other hand, the isolation of the populations of T. acteon seems to be so strict that the populations develop independently. Although no general genetic impoverishing was observed for the endangered T. acteon, small populations had significantly lower genetic diversities than big populations, and therefore the high degree of isolation among populations might threaten its local and regional survival.