Species-specific traits predict genetic structure but not genetic diversity of three fragmented Afrotropical forest butterfly species
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- Bossart, J.L. & Antwi, J.B. Conserv Genet (2013) 14: 511. doi:10.1007/s10592-012-0436-9
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The Upper Guinean forests of Ghana, West Africa, are considered among the most threatened and fragmented in the world. Little is known about the genetic consequences of fragmentation on Ghana’s forest-associated species, but this genetic signature is generally expected to differ across species. We compared patterns of mtDNA cytochrome oxidase I (COI) variation of three Nymphalid forest butterfly species that differ with respect to their relative dispersibilities (Aterica galene: high habitat fidelity, low dispersal ability; Euphaedra medon: high habitat fidelity, strong dispersal ability; Gnophodes betsimena: relaxed habitat fidelity, low dispersal ability). Individuals were collected from two large forest reserves and five small sacred forest groves. Patterns of differentiation across species were broadly coincident with our predicted hierarchy of relative species dispersibility and suggested that genetic connectivity is most compromised by strict fidelity to forest habitat rather than by raw capacity for sustained flight. Connectivity was uncorrelated with geographic distance, but instead seemed best explained by urbanization and the sequential pattern of forest loss. Genetic diversity was dramatically different among species and not easily explained by either species-specific traits or effects of fragmentation. Aterica galene, the species most impacted by fragmentation, exhibited very high diversity, whereas G. betsimena, a broadly distributed, very common species, with relaxed habitat fidelity, was genetically depauperate. There was limited evidence of genetic erosion from the sacred groves despite these small forest patches accounting for less than 1–10 % of the total area of the forest reserves, which indicates these forest relics have high conservation value.