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PLOS ONE  2013 

Do Major Roads Reduce Gene Flow in Urban Bird Populations?

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0077026

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Background Although the negative effects of roads on the genetics of animal populations have been extensively reported, the question of whether roads reduce gene flow in volant, urban bird populations has so far not been addressed. In this study, we assess whether highways decreased gene flow and genetic variation in a small passerine bird, the tree sparrow (Passer montanus). Methodology We assessed genetic differences among tree sparrows (Passer montanus) sampled at 19 sites within Beijing Municipality, China, using 7 DNA microsatellites as genetic markers. Results AMOVA showed that genetic variation between sites, between urban and rural populations, and between opposite sides of the same highway, were very weak. Mantel tests on all samples, and on urban samples only, indicated that the age and number of highways, and the number of ordinary roads, were uncorrelated with genetic differences (FST) among tree sparrows from different urban sites. Birds sampled at urban sites had similar levels of genetic diversity to those at rural sites. There was, however, evidence of some weak genetic structure between urban sites. Firstly, there were significant genetic differences (FST) between birds from opposite sides of the same highway, but no significant FST values between those from sites that were not separated by highways. Secondly, birds from eleven urban sites had loci that significantly deviated from the Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium but no such deviation was found in birds from rural sites. Conclusion We cannot, therefore, conclusively reject the hypothesis that highways have no effect on the gene flow of tree sparrow populations. Furthermore, since the significance of these results may increase with time, we suggested that research on the influence of highways on gene flow in urban bird populations needs to be conducted over several decades.


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