Fine-scale population genetic structure and sex-biased dispersal in the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) in southern England

Pernetta, A.P.; Allen, J.A.; Beebee, T.J.C.; Reading, C.J.. 2011 Fine-scale population genetic structure and sex-biased dispersal in the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) in southern England. Heredity, 107 (3). 231-238.

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Human-induced alteration of natural habitats has the potential to impact on the genetic structuring of remnant populations at multiple spatial scales. Species from higher trophic levels, such as snakes, are expected to be particularly susceptible to land-use changes. We examined fine-scale population structure and looked for evidence of sex-biased dispersal in smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca), sampled from 10 heathland localities situated within a managed coniferous forest in Dorset, United Kingdom. Despite the limited distances between heathland areas (maximum <6 km), there was a small but significant structuring of populations based on eight microsatellite loci. This followed an isolation-by-distance model using both straight line and ‘biological’ distances between sampling sites, suggesting C. austriaca's low vagility as the causal factor, rather than closed canopy conifer forest exerting an effect as a barrier to dispersal. Within population comparisons of male and female snakes showed evidence for sex-biased dispersal, with three of four analyses finding significantly higher dispersal in males than in females. We suggest that the fine-scale spatial genetic structuring and sex-biased dispersal have important implications for the conservation of C. austriaca, and highlight the value of heathland areas within commercial conifer plantations with regards to their future management.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Biodiversity > BD Topic 1 - Observations, Patterns, and Predictions for Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Hails
UKCEH Fellows
ISSN: 0018-067X
Additional Keywords: colubridae, forestry, genetic diversity, isolation-by-distance, microsatellites, habitat loss
NORA Subject Terms: Biology and Microbiology
Date made live: 24 Aug 2011 11:17 +0 (UTC)

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