Differential relationships between habitat fragmentation and within-population genetic diversity of three forest-dwelling birds

Benjamin Zuckerberg, Matthew D. Carling, Roi Dor, Elise D. Ferree, Garth M. Spellman, Andrea K. Townsend

Research output: Working paperPreprint


Habitat fragmentation is a major driver of environmental change affecting wildlife populations across multiple levels of biological diversity. Much of the recent research in landscape genetics has focused on quantifying the influence of fragmentation on genetic variation among populations, but questions remain as to how habitat loss and configuration influences within-population genetic diversity. Habitat loss and fragmentation might lead to decreases in genetic diversity within populations, which might have implications for population persistence over multiple generations. We used genetic data collected from populations of three species occupying forested landscapes across a broad geographic region: Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli; 22 populations), White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis; 13 populations) and Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea; 19 populations) to quantify patterns of haplotype and nucleotide diversity across a range of forest fragmentation. We predicted that fragmentation effects on genetic diversity would vary depending on dispersal capabilities and habitat specificity of the species. Forest aggregation and the variability in forest patch area were the two strongest landscape predictors of genetic diversity. We found higher haplotype diversity in populations of P. gambeli and S. carolinensis inhabiting landscapes characterized by lower levels of forest fragmentation. Conversely, S. pygmaea demonstrated the opposite pattern of higher genetic diversity in fragmented landscapes. For two of the three species, we found support for the prediction that highly fragmented landscapes sustain genetically less diverse populations. We suggest, however, that future studies should focus on species of varying life-history traits inhabiting independent landscapes to better understand how habitat fragmentation influences within-population genetic diversity.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 8 May 2014
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameBioRvix - preprint sever for biology


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