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Fragmentation and Patch Size Shape Genetic Structure of Brook Trout Populations

We tested the relative influence of habitat patch size and connectivity on genetic structure and effective population size in eight brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) habitat patches in a watershed in Virginia, USA. Variation at eight microsatellite loci in 2229 young-of-the-year brook trout for two successive cohorts (2010 and 2011) was examined. Genetic differentiation across all populations was pronounced. Overall F'ST was 0.397 (95% CI: 0.322–0.525) and overall FST was 0.124 (95% CI: 0.096–0.159). Above-barrier patch size had a strong positive relationship with genetic diversity, Nˆ b, and genetic differentiation. Our analysis is consistent with greater extinction risk in smaller above-barrier patches. Larger above-barrier patches contained greater genetic diversity but reduced Nˆ b relative to adjacent below-barrier patches. The primary effect of barriers may be to reduce available above-barrier spawning habitat, even for larger above-barrier patches. Below-barrier patches also showed evidence of reduced genetic diversity and lack of connectivity. Genetic monitoring focused at gaining a broader understanding of the relationships here will be necessary to fully evaluate local extinction risks.

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