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The hidden costs of living in a transformed habitat: Ecological and evolutionary consequences in a tripartite mutualistic system with a keystone mistletoe

Fontúrbel, Francisco E., Bruford, Michael W., Salazar, Daniela A., Cortés-Miranda, Jorge, Vega-Retter, Caren
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.651 pp. 2740-2748
Eucalyptus globulus, Santalales, ecological competition, gene flow, genetic markers, genetic variation, habitat fragmentation, habitats, land use change, mutualism, plantations, pollinators, species diversity, viability
Land use change is one of the most important anthropogenic drivers of biodiversity loss. Nevertheless, the ecological and evolutionary consequences of habitat transformation remain less understood than those from habitat fragmentation. Transformed habitats are structurally simpler, altering species composition and their ecological interactions, potentially compromising gene flow and genetic diversity. We focused on a tripartite mutualistic system composed of a mistletoe (Tristerix corymbosus), its pollinator (Sephanoides sephaniodes) and its seed disperser (Dromiciops gliroides) to assess changes in their ecological and evolutionary dynamics as a result of habitat transformation. We used eight microsatellite markers to compare genetic diversity, relatedness and gene flow among five mistletoe groups inhabiting native and transformed habitats (abandoned Eucalyptus globulus plantations). We found that these groups were genetically structured, with greater allelic richness and genetic diversity in their native habitat. Also, we found higher relatedness among mistletoe individuals in transformed habitats, which varied as a function of the geographic distance among plants, probably as a result of larger resource availability, which influenced mutualist visitation rates. We did not find differences in the current migration patterns, which suggests that Tristerix corymbosus may be resilient to habitat transformation. Yet, its highly specialized interactions along with changes in its spatial configuration depict a more complex scenario, which probably impose a cost in terms of lower genetic diversity and increased relatedness that might compromise its long-term viability.