Recent and rapid anthropogenic habitat fragmentation increases extinction risk for freshwater biodiversity

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Anthropogenic habitat fragmentation is often implicated as driving the current global extinction crisis, particularly in freshwater ecosystems. The genetic signal of recent population isolation can be confounded by the complex spatial arrangement of dendritic river systems. Consequently, many populations may presently be managed separately based on an incorrect assumption that they have evolved in isolation. Integrating landscape genomics data with models of connectivity that account for landscape structure, we show that the cumulative effects of multiple in-stream barriers have contributed to the recent decline of a freshwater fish from the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia. In addition, individual-based eco-evolutionary simulations further demonstrate that contemporary inferences about population isolation are consistent with the 160-year time frame since construction of in-stream barriers began in the region. Our findings suggest that the impact of very recent fragmentation may be often underestimated for freshwater biodiversity. We argue that proactive conservation measures to reconnect many riverine populations are urgently needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2857-2869
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number10
Early online date11 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • conservation genomics
  • eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • genetic rescue
  • Murray–Darling Basin
  • riverine barriers
  • riverscape genomics
  • teleost fish
  • threatened biodiversity


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