Landscape genetics of a recent population extirpation in a burnet moth species
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The intensification of agricultural land use over wide parts of Europe has led to the decline of semi-natural habitats, such as extensively used meadows, with those that remain often being small and isolated. These rapid changes in land use during recent decades have strongly affected populations inhabiting these ecosystems. Increasing habitat deterioration and declining permeability of the surrounding landscape matrix disrupt the gene flow within metapopulations. The burnet moth species Zygaena loti has suffered strongly from recent habitat fragmentation, as reflected by its declining abundance. We have studied its population genetic structure and found a high level of genetic diversity in some of the populations analysed, while others display low genetic diversity and a lack of heterozygosity. Zygaena loti was formerly highly abundant in meadows and along the skirts of forests. However, the species is currently restricted to isolated habitat remnants, which is reflected by the high genetic divergence among populations (FST: 0.136). Species distribution modelling as well as the spatial examination of panmictic clusters within the study area strongly support a scattered population structure for this species. We suggest that populations with a high level of genetic diversity still represent the former genetic structure of interconnected populations, while populations with low numbers of alleles, high FIS values, and a lack of heterozygosity display the negative effects of reduced interconnectivity. A continuous exchange of individuals is necessary to maintain high genetic variability. Based on these results, we draw the general conclusion that more common taxa with originally large population networks and high genetic diversity suffer stronger from sudden habitat fragmentation than highly specialised species with lower genetic diversity which have persisted in isolated patches for long periods of time.