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Are species genetically more sensitive to habitat fragmentation on the periphery of their range compared to the core? A case study on the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis)



Species show different sensitivity to habitat loss and fragmentation depending on their specialization. Populations of a species at the range margin are generally assumed to be more stenoecious than populations at the core of the distribution and should therefore be more sensitive to habitat fragmentation.


We evaluated the hypothesis that fragmentation effects species more strongly at the range periphery of their range compared to the core, resulting in lower genetic variability in comparable patch sizes and lower gene flow among populations.


We compared the genetic diversity and structure of five sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) populations at the margin of its range in Bulgaria and of 11 populations at the core of its distribution in Germany. We based the analysis on microsatellites, comprising 15 loci in Bulgaria and 12 in Germany.


All diversity indices declined with patch size. For medium-sized patches all diversity indices were lower at the range periphery compared to the core, with two of them being significant. AICc based model selection showed strong support for core/periphery and patch size effects for observed and expected heterozygosity but only a patch size effect for allelic richness. There was no isolation-by-distance and each sampled population was allocated to a separate cluster with high probability for both countries, indicating that all populations are (almost) completely isolated.


Our study indicates an increased sensitivity of a species to fragmentation at the periphery compared to the core of its distribution. This differential sensitivity should be accounted for when prioritizing species based on their fragmentation sensitivity in landscape management.

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We thank Conrad Helm, Stefan Schaffer, Ana María Prieto Ramírez, Ronny Wolf and Nico Hesselbarth for assisting in the field and Heiko Stukkas for assistance concerning some of the statistical analyses.

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Correspondence to Klaus Henle.

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Nikolay Tzankov recently deceased

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Henle, K., Andres, C., Bernhard, D. et al. Are species genetically more sensitive to habitat fragmentation on the periphery of their range compared to the core? A case study on the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis). Landscape Ecol 32, 131–145 (2017).

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  • Lacertidae
  • Fragmentation sensitivity
  • Genetic variability
  • Genetic structure
  • Isolation-by-distance
  • Patch size
  • Range core
  • Range periphery