Molecular edge effects in the endangered golden-brown mouse lemur Microcebus ravelobensis
Habitat fragmentation creates habitat edges, and ecological edge effects can cause major changes in the ecology and distribution of many taxa. However, these ecological changes may in turn influence animal movements and lead to molecular edge effects and edge-related genetic structure, matters that are largely unexplored. This study aims to infer molecular edge effects and to test three possible underlying mechanisms in the Endangered golden-brown mouse lemur Microcebus ravelobensis, a nocturnal species in the dry deciduous forest of the Ankarafantsika National Park in north-western Madagascar. Mouse lemurs were sampled in one edge and two interior habitats in close proximity to each other (500–1,400 m) in a continuous forest. A total of 41 mouse lemur samples were genotyped with seven nuclear microsatellites, and a fragment of the mitochondrial control region was sequenced for all samples. The overall genetic diversity (allelic richness, heterozygosity, haplotype richness, nucleotide diversity) was lower in the edge habitat compared to the two interior sites and all subpopulations showed signals of relatively low genetic exchange and significant genetic differentiation between them despite the short geographical distances, supporting the local preference model. These findings can be interpreted as preliminary signals of a molecular edge effect and suggest the potential for local adaptation. They are highly relevant for the conservation of fragmented populations, because a further subdivision of already small populations may increase their vulnerability to stochastic demographic changes and collapse.