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How spatio-temporal habitat connectivity affects amphibian genetic structure

September 8, 2015

Heterogeneous landscapes and fluctuating environmental conditions can affect species dispersal, population genetics, and genetic structure, yet understanding how biotic and abiotic factors affect population dynamics in a fluctuating environment is critical for species management. We evaluated how spatio-temporal habitat connectivity influences dispersal and genetic structure in a population of boreal chorus frogs (Pseudacris maculata) using a landscape genetics approach. We developed gravity models to assess the contribution of various factors to the observed genetic distance as a measure of functional connectivity. We selected (a) wetland (within-site) and (b) landscape matrix (between-site) characteristics; and (c) wetland connectivity metrics using a unique methodology. Specifically, we developed three networks that quantify wetland connectivity based on: (i) P. maculata dispersal ability, (ii) temporal variation in wetland quality, and (iii) contribution of wetland stepping-stones to frog dispersal. We examined 18 wetlands in Colorado, and quantified 12 microsatellite loci from 322 individual frogs. We found that genetic connectivity was related to topographic complexity, within- and between-wetland differences in moisture, and wetland functional connectivity as contributed by stepping-stone wetlands. Our results highlight the role that dynamic environmental factors have on dispersal-limited species and illustrate how complex asynchronous interactions contribute to the structure of spatially-explicit metapopulations.