Recent habitat fragmentation caused by major roads leads to reduction of gene flow and loss of genetic variability in ground beetles

Irene Keller, Carlo R. Largiadèr

Abstract

Although habitat fragmentation is suspected to jeopardize the long–term survival of many species, few data are available on its impact on the genetic variability of invertebrates. We assess the genetic population structure of the flightless ground beetle Carabus violaceus L., 1758 in a Swiss forest, which is divided into several fragments by a highway and two main roads. Eight samples were collected from different forest fragments and analysed at six microsatellite loci. The largest genetic differentiation was observed between samples separated by roads and in particular by the highway. The number of roads between sites explained 44% of the variance in pairwise FST estimates, whereas the age of the road and the geographical distance between locations were not significant factors. Furthermore, a comparison of allelic richness showed that the genetic variability in a small forest fragment isolated by the highway was significantly lower than in the rest of the study area. These findings strongly support the hypothesis that large roads are absolute barriers to gene flow in C. violaceus, which may lead to a loss of genetic variability in fragmented populations.