Conservation genetics of the yellow-bellied toad (Bombina variegata) : population structure, genetic diversity and landscape effects in an endangered amphibian
Revealing patterns of genetic diversity and barriers for gene flow are key points for successful conservation in endangered species. Methods based on molecular markers are also often used to delineate conservation units such as evolutionary significant units and management units. Here we combine phylo-geographic analyses (based on mtDNA) with population and landscape genetic analyses (based on microsatellites) for the endangered yellow-bellied toad Bombina variegata over a wide distribution range in Germany. Our analyses show that two genetic clusters are present in the study area, a northern and a
southern/central one, but that these clusters are not deeply divergent. The genetic data suggest high fragmentation among toad occurrences and consequently low genetic diversity. Genetic diversity and genetic connectivity showed a negative
relationship with road densities and urban areas surrounding toad occurrences, indicating that these landscape features act as barriers to gene flow. To preserve a maximum of genetic diversity, we recommend considering both genetic clusters as
management units, and to increase gene flow among toad occurrences with the aim of restoring and protecting functional meta-populations within each of the clusters. Several isolated populations with especially low genetic diversity and signs
of inbreeding need particular short-term conservation attention to avoid extinction. We also recommend to allow natural gene flow between both clusters but not to use individuals from one cluster for translocation or reintroduction into the other.
Our results underscore the utility of molecular tools for species conservation, highlight outcomes of habitat fragmentation onto the genetic structure of an endangered amphibian and reveal particularly threatened populations in need for urgent conservation efforts.