The declining Spadefoot toad, Pelobates fuscus (Pelobatidae): paleo and recent environmental changes as a major influence on current population structure and status
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Populations of the European Spadefoot toad (Pelobates fuscus) have experienced recent declines all over Europe, but these appear to be more intense in north and western Europe. Due to the toad's fossorial nature and specific habitat requirements, environmental conditions have played a major role in structuring current populations. We examined the phylogeographic structure in P. fuscus from 16 localities throughout Europe using mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequence analysis. Sequence divergence among haplotypes was low (0.54 +/- 0.15%). Three very closely related haplotypes occupy northern and western parts of Europe whereas 12 others were observed among samples from south-eastern Europe, including the Balkans. Our results suggest that toads only recently colonized the northern and western parts of Europe following glacial retreat. This expansion probably took place in steppic-like areas during the younger Dryas cold interval, about 12,900-11,500 years ago. Restricted gene flow with an isolation-by-distance population structure characterises a major part of its distribution range. Based on our results we suggest that the northern and western lineages should be considered as distinct conservation units, while the south-eastern populations from the refugial areas, where nearly all genetic polymorphism occurs and populations appear less vulnerable, should receive special attention.