Genetic effects of habitat fragmentation and population isolation on Etheostoma raneyi (Percidae)
The use of genetic methods to quantify the effects of anthropogenic habitat fragmentation on population structure has become increasingly common. However, in today’s highly fragmented habitats, researchers have sometimes concluded that populations are currently genetically isolated due to habitat fragmentation without testing the possibility that populations were genetically isolated before European settlement. Etheostoma raneyi is a benthic headwater fish restricted to river drainages in northern Mississippi, USA, that has a suite of adaptive traits that correlate with poor dispersal ability. Aquatic habitat within this area has been extensively modified, primarily by flood-control projects, and populations in headwater streams have possibly become genetically isolated from one another. We used microsatellite markers to quantify genetic structure as well as contemporary and historical gene flow across the range of the species. Results indicated that genetically distinct populations exist in each headwater stream analyzed, current gene flow rates are lower than historical rates, most genetic variation is partitioned among populations, and populations in the Yocona River drainage show lower levels of genetic diversity than populations in the Tallahatchie River drainage and other Etheostoma species. All populations have negative FIS scores, of which roughly half are significant relative to Hardy–Weinberg expectations, perhaps due to small population sizes. We conclude that anthropogenic habitat alteration and fragmentation has had a profoundly negative impact on the species by isolating E. raneyi within headwater stream reaches. Further research is needed to inform conservation strategies, but populations in the Yocona River drainage are in dire need of management action. Carefully planned human-mediated dispersal and habitat restoration should be explored as management options across the range of the species.