Conservation Genetics

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1439–1448 | Cite as

Gene flow simulations demonstrate resistance of long-lived species to genetic erosion from habitat fragmentation

  • Matthew R. FullerEmail author
  • Martin W. Doyle
Research Article


Habitat fragmentation restricts the movement of individuals across a landscape. In terrestrial and aquatic systems, barriers to movement can modify population and community dynamics at local or regional scales. This study contrasted life history traits related to lifespan with habitat fragmentation to determine impacts on species population genetic structure in the Neuse River Basin, USA. For this, we simulated gene flow among evenly-spaced populations in a river network and tracked individual and population genetics for 200 years. The modeled scenarios represent a full cross between five life history strategies and four riverscapes representing varying degrees of fragmentation. The five life history strategies include species (based on freshwater mussels) with average lifespans ranging from 10 to 50 years and age at maturity from 2 to 6 years. The movement landscapes included a (1) panmictic, (2) stepping-stone landscape allowing movement to only neighboring populations during each dispersal event, (3) partially-fragmented landscape divided by dams currently in the network, and (4) fully-fragmented landscape. Results suggest species with shorter lifespans have higher population genetic structure in fragmented landscapes than species with longer lifespans. Furthermore, species with shorter lifespans in highly fragmented landscapes may be harboring genetic degradation or decline as allele fixation and loss. Although anthropogenic fragmentation of many river systems is only 100–200 years old, the simulation indicates that species can respond genetically in that period of time. Additionally, the time frame of the simulation suggests that genetic impacts of habitat fragmentation in some species present in the Neuse River Basin may not yet be manifesting and restoration activities could be successful.


Allelic diversity CDPOP Freshwater mussel Genetic drift Life history Neuse River Population genetic structure Unionidae 



We thank Tom Schultz, David Strayer, Dean Urban, and Justin Wright for comments on early drafts of this manuscript. Funding was provided by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (#F11AP00566), Hydro Research Foundation, Society for Freshwater Science, and Garden Club of America.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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