Delayed genetic effects of habitat fragmentation on the ecologically specialized Florida sand skink (Plestiodon reynoldsi)

Abstract

Populations rarely show immediate genetic responses to habitat fragmentation, even in taxa that possess suites of traits known to increase their vulnerability to extinction. Thus conservation geneticists must consider the time scale over which contemporary evolutionary processes operate to accurately portray the effects of habitat isolation. Here, we examine the genetic impacts of fragmentation on the Florida sand skink Plestiodon reynoldsi, a sand swimming lizard that is highly adapted to the upland scrub habitat of central Florida. We studied fragments located on the southern Lake Wales Ridge, where human activity in the latter half of the 20th century has modified the natural patchiness of the landscape. Based on a relaxed molecular clock method, we estimate that sand skinks have persisted in this region for approximately 1.5 million years and that the time frame of human disturbance is equivalent to fewer than 30 skink generations. Using genotypes from eight microsatellite loci, we screened for molecular signatures of this disturbance by assessing congruence between population structure, as inferred from spatially-informed Bayesian assignment tests, and the current geography of scrub fragments. We also tested for potential intrapopulation genetic effects of inbreeding in isolated populations by comparing the average pairwise relatedness of individuals within fragments of different areas and isolation. Our results indicate that although some patches show a higher degree of relatedness than expected under random mating, the genetic effects of recent isolation are not evident in this part of the species’ range. We argue that this result is an artefact of a time-lag in the response to disturbance, and that species-typical demographic features may explain the genetic inertia observed in these populations.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Knipps, B. Branciforte, B. Meneken, J. Zipser, and volunteers from the Earthwatch Institute for help with fieldwork, S. Bogdanowicz for help with microsatellite development, and R. Pickert for assistance with GIS landscape modelling. H. Mushinsky provided constructive comments on the manuscript. We also thank H. Swain for providing support with field efforts and landscape modelling at the Archbold Biological Station. O. François provided valuable advice concerning the HMRF models. R. Bukowski facilitated the use of computer resources at the Computational Biology Service Unit (Cornell University) that receives partial funding from Microsoft. This study was funded by research grants from: Archbold Biological Station, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Earthwatch Institute (KGA); the Cornell Hughes Scholars Program, Sigma Xi Grants in Aid of Research, Einhorn Discovery Grant, and the Cornell Undergraduate Board (DTR); and the National Science Foundation (DEB 9907798) and Cornell College of Arts and Sciences (KZ).

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Correspondence to Jonathan Q. Richmond.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Populations and sample sizes of Plestiodon reynoldsi included in our study. Locality coordinates are reported for the centre of the minimum convex polygon formed by pitfall traps within a site.

 

Locality Name N Lat Long
HHP Highlands Hammock State Park 10 27.4283 −81.5192
HPE Highland Park Estates 12 27.3348 −81.3452
LJW Lake June-in-Winter 11 27.3121 −81.4201
LPS Lake Placid Scrub 10 27.2124 −81.3772
SSr99 Archbold Biological Station SSr99 11 27.2015 −81.3559
SSr67 Archbold Biological Station SSr67 32 27.2007 −81.3558
SH Sandhill 13 27.1858 −81.3408
SSr55 Archbold Biological Station SSr55 25 27.1407 −81.3552
GLD Gould Road 20 27.1317 −81.3251
SSr91 Archbold Biological Station SSr91 24 27.1233 −81.3621
HNR Hendrie Ranch 11 27.0931 −81.3164

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Richmond, J.Q., Reid, D.T., Ashton, K.G. et al. Delayed genetic effects of habitat fragmentation on the ecologically specialized Florida sand skink (Plestiodon reynoldsi). Conserv Genet 10, 1281–1297 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-008-9707-x

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Keywords

  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Skink
  • Ecological specialization
  • Genetic inertia
  • Plestiodon reynoldsi