Conservation genetics of yellow-bellied toads (Bombina variegata) : a matter of geographical scale and isolation
Amphibian populations world-wide are threatened by declines and extinctions mainly due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Habitat fragmentation threatens the yellow-bellied toad Bombina variegata in the northern and western regions of its distribution where it is strictly protected. We studied the genetic structure and diversity of populations at three geographical scales using microsatellite loci to detect potential threats for population persistence. At the local scale, we sampled four neighbouring localities at 1–2.6 km distance to detect efects of short-term (decades) fragmentation on connectivity. At the regional scale, fve additional localities in the mountains of the Westerwald (Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany) were studied at up to 50.1 km distance to analyse genetic diversity and population structure. At the continental scale, we included data from regions in the northern distribution with fragmented populations (Hesse and Lower Saxony, Germany) and more continuous populations in the South (Alsace, France; Geneva, Switzerland; Trentino, Italy) to evaluate variation of genetic diversity. At the local scale, short-term fragmentation caused signifcant genetic diferentiation between breeding assemblages only 1.4 km apart from each other. At the regional scale, we found notable genetic distance among localities. At the continental scale, we identifed Alsace, Trentino and Geneva in the South as regions with low genetic structuring and high allelic richness, and the northern remaining regions in Germany as deeply structured with reduced allelic richness. We suggest that reduced genetic diversity and habitat fragmentation in northern regions makes these populations particularly vulnerable to decline. In conclusion, informed conservation management of B. variegata should focus on measures maintaining or improving connectivity among neighbouring populations.