, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 41-50
Date: 16 Sep 2009

Landscape genetics of the Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris) inferred from a strip-based approach

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Abstract

Habitat destruction and fragmentation are known to strongly affect dispersal by altering the quality of the environment between populations. As a consequence, lower landscape connectivity is expected to enhance extinction risks through a decrease in gene flow and the resulting negative effects of genetic drift, accumulation of deleterious mutations and inbreeding depression. Such phenomena are particularly harmful for amphibian species, characterized by disjunct breeding habitats. The dispersal behaviour of amphibians being poorly understood, it is crucial to develop new tools, allowing us to determine the influence of landscape connectivity on the persistence of populations. In this study, we developed a new landscape genetics approach that aims at identifying land-uses affecting genetic differentiation, without a priori assumptions about associated ecological costs. We surveyed genetic variation at seven microsatellite loci for 19 Alpine newt (Mesotriton alpestris) populations in western Switzerland. Using strips of varying widths that define a dispersal corridor between pairs of populations, we were able to identify land-uses that act as dispersal barriers (i.e. urban areas) and corridors (i.e. forests). Our results suggest that habitat destruction and landscape fragmentation might in the near future affect common species such as M. alpestris. In addition, by identifying relevant landscape variables influencing population structure without unrealistic assumptions about dispersal, our method offers a simple and flexible tool of investigation as an alternative to least-cost models and other approaches.