Fire Increases Genetic Diversity of Populations of Six-Lined Racerunner

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Journal of Heredity






Wildfires are highly variable and can disturb habitats, leading to direct and indirect effects on the genetic characteristics of local populations. Florida scrub is a fire-dependent, highly fragmented, and severely threatened habitat. Understanding the effect of fire on genetic characteristics of the species that use this habitat is critically important. We investigated one such lizard, the Six-lined Racerunner (Aspidoscelis sexlineata), which has a strong preference for open areas. We collected Six-lined Racerunners (n = 154) from 11 sites in Highlands County, FL, and defined 2 time-since-last-fire (TSF) categories: recently burned and long unburned. We screened genetic variation at 6 microsatellites to estimate genetic differentiation and compare genetic diversity among sites to determine the relationship with TSF. A clear pattern exists between genetic diversity and TSF in the absence of strong genetic differentiation. Genetic diversity was greater and inbreeding was lower in sites with more recent TSF, and genetic characteristics had significantly larger variance in long unburned sites compared with more recently burned sites. Our results suggest that fire suppression increases variance in genetic characteristics of the Six-lined Racerunner. More generally, fire may benefit genetic characteristics of some species that use fire-dependent habitats and management efforts for such severely fragmented habitat will be challenged by the presence of multiple species with incompatible fire preferences.