Molecular and ecological evidence for small-scale isolation by distance in an endangered damselfly, Coenagrion mercuriale

P C Watts, J R Rouquette, I J Saccheri, S J Kemp, D J Thompson

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Coenagrion mercuriale (Charpentier) (Odonata: Zygoptera) is one of Europe's most threatened damselflies and is listed in the European Habitats directive. We combined an intensive mark-release-recapture (MRR) study with a microsatellite-based genetic analysis for C. mercuriale from the Itchen Valley, UK, as part of an effort to understand the dispersal characteristics of this protected species. MRR data indicate that adult damselflies are highly sedentary, with only a low frequency of interpatch movement that is predominantly to neighbouring sites. This restricted dispersal leads to significant genetic differentiation throughout most of the Itchen Valley, except between areas of continuous habitat, and isolation by distance (IBD), even though the core populations are separated by less than 10 km. An urban area separating some sites had a strong effect on the spatial genetic structure. Average pairwise relatedness between individual damselflies is positive at short distances, reflecting fine-scale genetic clustering and IBD both within- and between-habitat patches. Damselflies from a fragmented habitat have higher average kinship than those from a large continuous population, probably because of poorer dispersal and localized breeding in the former. Although indirect estimates of gene flow must be interpreted with caution, it is encouraging that our results indicate that the spatial pattern of genetic variation matches closely with that expected from direct observations of movement. These data are further discussed with respect to possible barriers to dispersal within the study site and the ecology and conservation of C. mercuriale. To our knowledge, this is the first report of fine-scale genetic structuring in any zygopteran species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2931-45
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2004


  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Demography
  • Environment
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population
  • Geography
  • Great Britain
  • Insects
  • Linkage Disequilibrium
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Principal Component Analysis


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