Conservation Genetics

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 545–556 | Cite as

River fragmentation increases localized population genetic structure and enhances asymmetry of dispersal in bullhead (Cottus gobio)

  • Julian Junker
  • Armin Peter
  • Catherine E. Wagner
  • Salome Mwaiko
  • Brigitte Germann
  • Ole Seehausen
  • Irene Keller
Research Article


Man-made habitat fragmentation is a major concern in river ecology and is expected to have particularly detrimental effects on aquatic species with limited dispersal abilities, like the bullhead (Cottus gobio). We used ten microsatellite markers to investigate small-scale patterns of gene flow, current dispersal and neutral genetic diversity in a morphologically diverse river where fragmented and unfragmented sections could be compared. We found high genetic differentiation between sampling sites with a maximum F ST of 0.32 between sites separated by only 35 km. A significant increase of genetic differentiation with geographical distance was observed in the continuous river section as well as in the full dataset which included headwater populations isolated by anthropogenic barriers. Several lines of evidence are consistent with the hypothesis that such barriers completely block upstream movement while downstream dispersal may be little affected. In the unfragmented habitat, dispersal rates were also higher in the direction of water flow than against it. The resulting asymmetry in gene flow likely contributes to the decrease of genetic variation observed from the lower reaches towards the headwaters, which is particularly pronounced in physically isolated populations. Our findings suggest that headwater populations, due to their isolation and low genetic variation, may be particularly vulnerable to extinction.


Fragmentation Microsatellites Bullhead Cottus gobio Population genetic structure Conservation 



Special thanks go to Christina Riedl, Laura Langeloh and Reto Haas for their valuable help during fieldwork. We thank the local fisheries authorities of Bern and Fribourg for their support of this project. We are also grateful to the members of the River Management project and special thanks go to all the people at Fishec, who have always been very supportive. We would also like to thank E. E. Nielsen and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable input. This project was financially supported by EAWAG through an action field grant to AP and IK.

Supplementary material

10592_2011_306_MOESM1_ESM.docx (64 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 64 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julian Junker
    • 1
    • 3
  • Armin Peter
    • 1
  • Catherine E. Wagner
    • 1
    • 4
  • Salome Mwaiko
    • 1
  • Brigitte Germann
    • 1
  • Ole Seehausen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Irene Keller
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Center of Ecology, Evolution and Biochemistry, Department of Fish Ecology and EvolutionEAWAG Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyKastanienbaumSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Aquatic EcologyEAWAG Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyDübendorfSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Aquatic Ecology and Macroevolution, Institute of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  4. 4.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCorson Hall, Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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