Linking habitat quality with genetic diversity: a lesson from great bustards in Spain
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The effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on the genetic structure and variability of wild populations have received wide empirical support and theoretical formalization. By contrast, the effects of habitat quality seem largely underinvestigated, partly due to technical difficulties in properly assessing habitat quality. In this study, we combine geographic information system (GIS)-based habitat-quality modelling with a landscape genetics approach based on mitochondrial DNA markers to evaluate the possible influence of habitat quality on the levels and distribution of genetic diversity in a range of natural populations (n = 15) of Otis tarda throughout Spain. Ninety-three percent of the population represented by our countrywide sample lives in good-quality habitats, while 4.5% and 2.5% occur respectively in intermediate and poor habitats. Habitat quality was highly correlated with patch size, population size and population density, indicating the reliability and predictive power of the habitat suitability model. Genetic diversity was significantly correlated with habitat quality, size and density of the population, but not with patch size. Three of a total of 20 existing matrilineages from the species’ current genetic pool are restricted to poor-quality habitats. This study therefore highlights the importance of considering both population genetics and habitat quality in a species of high conservation priority.
KeywordsOtis tarda Geographic information systems Habitat suitability index mtDNA
We thank Javier Alonso, Carlos Palacín, Marina Magaña and Beatriz Martín for collaborating during fieldwork. Additional help was provided by Manuel Morales and Enrique Martín. We also thank Anke Schmidt and Dietmar Lieckfeldt for technical assistance, and P.E. Osborne for his participation in building the habitat suitability model. We also greatly appreciate the valuable comments from the editor and two anonymous reviewers. The study was financed by the Dirección General de investigación (projects PB94-0068, PB97-1252, BOS2002-01543 and CGL2008-02567).
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