Crayfish populations genetically fragmented in streams impounded for 36–104 years
1. Dams and their associated impoundments may restrict dispersal and gene flow among populations of numerous freshwater species within stream networks, leading to genetic isolation. This can reduce effective population sizes and genetic diversity, increasing the risk of local extinction.
2. We studied crayfishes from multiple up- and downstream sites in three impounded and two unimpounded streams in the Bear Creek and Cahaba River drainages, Alabama, U.S.A. Using mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome oxidase subunit I gene) sequence data generated from population-level sampling of two abundant native crayfishes, Faxonius validus and Faxonius erichsonianus (Decapoda: Cambaridae), we assessed species’ spatial genetic structure and genetic diversity, estimated the magnitude and directionality of gene flow, and compared results between the species.
3. For both species, levels of genetic diversity (number of haplotypes, and haplotypic and nucleotide diversity) were the same or higher in impounded compared to unimpounded streams. Conversely, crayfish populations in up- and downstream sections of unimpounded streams displayed high genetic similarity and bidirectional gene flow, whereas in impounded streams, crayfish populations typically had greater up- and downstream genetic differentiation and predominantly unidirectional, downstream gene flow.
4. Although impoundments were associated with lower connectivity between upand downstream sections for F. validus and F. erichsonianus, the magnitude of genetic effects was species-specific, with greater differentiation between F. validus populations up- and downstream of impoundments.
5. In an ecologically short timeframe, impoundments appear to have fragmented stream crayfish populations, and even species with relatively high abundances and large ranges had lower gene flow among populations in impounded streams compared to unimpounded streams. In addition, feedbacks between genetic and demographic effects on fragmented populations may decrease the probability of long-term persistence.