A land snail's view of a fragmented landscape
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Biological journal of the Linnean Society. - London
, p. 839-850
University of Antwerp
Habitat fragmentation may influence the genetic structure of populations, especially of species with low mobility. So far, these effects have been mainly studied by surveying neutral markers, and much less by looking at ecologically relevant characters. Therefore, we aimed to explore eventual patterns of covariation between population structuring in neutral markers and variation in shell morphometrics in the forest-associated snail Discus rotundatus in relation to habitat fragment characteristics. To this end, we screened shell morphometric variability and sequence variation in a fragment of the mitochondrial 16S rDNA gene in D. rotundatus from the fragmented landscape of the Lower Rhine Embayment, Germany. The 16S rDNA of D. rotundatus was highly variable, with a total of 118 haplotypes (384 individuals) forming four clades and one unresolved group. There was a geographic pattern in the distribution of the clades with the river Rhine apparently separating two groups. Yet, at the geographic scale considered, there was no obvious effect of fragmentation on shell morphometrics and 16S rDNA variation because GST often was as high within, as between forests. Instead, the age of the habitat and (re-)afforestation events appeared to affect shell shape and 16S rDNA in terms of the number of clades per site. The ecologically relevant characters thus supported the presumably neutral mitochondrial DNA markers by indicating that populations of not strictly stenecious species may be (relatively) stable in fragments. However, afforestation after large clearcuts and habitat gain after the amendment of deforestation are accompanied by several, seemingly persistent peculiarities, such as altered genetic composition and shell characters (e.g. aperture size).