Contemporary gene flow and weak genetic structuring in Rococo toad (Rhinella schneideri) populations in habitats fragmented by agricultural activities
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The reduced vagility and philopatric behaviour of most amphibians make them especially vulnerable to the effects of habitat fragmentation, in particular the loss of genetic variation. However, almost no data are available on the effects of agricultural practices on populations of Neotropical amphibians. Here, the genetic diversity of Rococo toad (Rhinella schneideri) populations in the highly disturbed landscape of the north-western region of the Brazilian state of São Paulo was analysed using microsatellite markers. Two areas were sampled - one dominated by open pastures (four populations) and the other by sugar cane plantations (two populations) - in an attempt to evaluate the possible influence of the type of anthropogenic matrix on genetic variability and gene flow (dispersion). The populations presented a relatively uniform genetic stock, with low levels of inbreeding (Fis) and high levels of admixture between localities (Fst, Rst, STRUCTURE) indicating no genetic subdivision. The results indicated relatively high levels of recent migration among sites (m) and no isolation by distance. The analyses also found that historical and contemporary rates of migration among populations were broadly similar. Overall, then, neither type of matrix appeared to have an effect on the connectivity of the Rococo toad populations. This suggests that the species has a considerable capacity for dispersal, allowing it to maintain a relatively homogeneous population, even under intense human pressure.