Genetic variability and the effect of habitat fragmentation in spotted suslik Spermophilus suslicus populations from two different regions
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- Biedrzycka, A. & Konopiński, M.K. Conserv Genet (2008) 9: 1211. doi:10.1007/s10592-007-9442-8
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Endangered species worldwide exist in remnant populations, often within fragmented landscapes. Although assessment of genetic diversity in fragmented habitats is very important for conservation purposes, it is usually impossible to evaluate the amount of diversity that has actually been lost. Here, we compared population structure and levels of genetic diversity within populations of spotted suslik Spermophilus suslicus, inhabiting two different parts of the species range characterized by different levels of habitat connectivity. We used microsatellites to analyze 10 critically endangered populations located at the western part of the range, where suslik habitat have been severely devastated due to agriculture industrialization. Their genetic composition was compared with four populations from the eastern part of the range where the species still occupies habitat with reasonable levels of connectivity. In the western region, we detected extreme population structure (FST = 0.20) and levels of genetic diversity (Allelic richness ranged from 1.45 to 3.07) characteristic for highly endangered populations. Alternatively, in the eastern region we found significantly higher allelic richness (from 5.09 to 5.81) and insignificant population structure (FST = 0.03). As we identified a strong correlation between genetic and geographic distance and a lack of private alleles in the western region, we conclude that extreme population structure and lower genetic diversity is due to recent habitat loss. Results from this study provide guidelines for conservation and management of this highly endangered species.