Main content area

Exploring the legacy of goat grazing: signatures of habitat fragmentation on genetic patterns of endemic weevil populations in Northern Isabela Island, Galápagos (Ecuador)

Sequeira, Andrea S., Stepien, Courtney C., Tran, Christina T., Stuckert, Austin, Roque Albelo, Lázaro, Guo, Weixia
Conservation genetics 2016 v.17 no.4 pp. 903-920
Curculionidae, genetic variation, goats, grazing, habitat fragmentation, habitats, herbivores, host plants, insects, islands, landscapes, microsatellite repeats, population size, vegetation, volcanoes, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands
Together with reduction in habitat area and quality, reduction in habitat connectivity is one of the major factors influencing species’ persistence in fragmented landscapes. We explore the consequences of recent habitat fragmentation on volcanoes across Isabela Island, Galápagos by analyzing genetic patterns of populations of endemic weevils whose host plants have been depleted by indiscriminate goat grazing. We predicted that if grazing on the weevils’ host plants has caused habitat fragmentation on the weevils populations themselves, then the effects on the genetic architecture of populations should be more severe on Galapaganus conwayensis populations from volcanoes on Northern Isabela than on those from Santa Cruz or Pinta islands where vegetation destruction was not as extensive. We used mitochondrial sequences to reveal historical colonization patterns and microsatellite variation to understand more contemporary genetic changes. We found significantly lower microsatellite genetic diversity and population size within localities and increased genetic differentiation at a small geographic scale with a stronger isolation by distance pattern and larger numbers of genetic clusters on Isabela. In the absence of long-standing mitochondrial structure within each volcano, we interpret the microsatellite results as suggesting that recent host plant habitat fragmentation may indeed influence the genetic patterns of plant feeding insects and highlight the importance of controlling the spread of introduced herbivores in the Galápagos Islands.