Consequences of extensive habitat fragmentation in landscape-level patterns of genetic diversity and structure in the Mediterranean esparto grasshopper

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Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation has altered the distribution and population sizes in many organisms worldwide. For this reason, understanding the demographic and genetic consequences of this process is necessary to predict the fate of populations and establish management practices aimed to ensure their viability. In this study, we analyse whether the spatial configuration of remnant semi-natural habitat patches within a chronically fragmented landscape has shaped the patterns of genetic diversity and structure in the habitat-specialist esparto grasshopper (Ramburiella hispanica). In particular, we predict that agricultural lands constitute barriers to gene flow and hypothesize that fragmentation has restricted interpopulation dispersal and reduced local levels of genetic diversity. Our results confirmed the expectation that isolation and habitat fragmentation have reduced the genetic diversity of local populations. Landscape genetic analyses based on circuit theory showed that agricultural land offers ˜1000 times more resistance to gene flow than semi-natural habitats, indicating that patterns of dispersal are constrained by the spatial configuration of remnant patches of suitable habitat. Overall, this study shows that semi-natural habitat patches act as corridors for interpopulation gene flow and should be preserved due to the disproportionately large ecological function that they provide considering their insignificant area within these human-modified landscapes.

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