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Socioeconomic and climatic factors are modifying fire regimes with an increase of fire frequency and extension. Unfortunately, the effects of recurrent fires on biological processes that ultimately affect the genetic diversity of animal populations are mostly unknown. We examined genetic patterns of diversity in the wall lizard Podarcis guadarramae in northern Portugal, one of the European regions with the highest percentage of burnt land. This species is a small saxicolous lizard as it inhabits natural outcrops and artificial stone walls, likely in recurrent-fire landscapes. We genotyped nine microsatellites from ten populations selected according to a gradient in fire recurrence, and compared genetic diversity indexes and demographic patterns among them. At the population level, we hypothesize that a high level of mortality and population bottlenecks are expected to reduce genetic heterozygosity in sampled localities affected by recurrent fires. Alternatively, genetic signatures are expected to be absent whether fire did not cause high mortality. Regardless of levels of mortality, we expect a gain in genetic diversity whether recurrent fires facilitate lizard dispersal and migration due to the increased quality of the habitat for wall lizards. At the regional level, we examine whether a recurrent fire regime may disrupt the spatial structure of populations. Our results showed an increase in genetic diversity in recurrently burnt populations, and a decline in longer-unburnt populations. We did not detect bottleneck effects in repeatedly-burnt populations. High genetic diversity in recurrent fire populations suggests a high dispersion rate between adjacent metapopulations and perhaps immigration from outside the fire boundary. At the regional level, lizard populations show low differentiation and weak genetic structure, suggesting no effects of fire. This study confirms field-based censuses showing that recurrent-fire regimes give ecological opportunities to wall lizards that benefit from habitat openness.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Scientific reports
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