Fine-scale genetic population structure of an understory rainforest bird in Costa Rica

Brian R. Kreiser, University of Southern Mississippi


We studied five populations of a rainforest understory insectivorous bird (Myrmeciza exsul, chestnut-backed antbird) in a fragmented landscape in northeastern Costa Rica in order to test hypotheses about the influence of forest fragmentation on population genetic structure using 16 microsatellite loci. Bayesian assignment approaches-perhaps the most conservative analyses we performed-consistently grouped the sites into two distinct groups, with all individuals from the smallest and most isolated population clustering separately from the other four sites. Additional analyses revealed (1) overall significant genetic structure; (2) a pattern of population differentiation consistent with a hypothesis of isolation by resistance (landscape connectivity), but not distance; and (3) relatively short dispersal distances indicated by elevated mean pairwise relatedness in several of the sites. Our results are somewhat surprising given the small geographic distances between sites (11-34 km) and the short time (similar to 60 years) since wide-spread deforestation in this landscape. We suspect fine-scale genetic structure may occur in many resident tropical bird species, and in the case of the chestnut-backed antbird it appears that anthropogenic habitat fragmentation has important population genetic implications. It appears that chestnut-backed antbirds may persist in fragmented landscapes in the absence of significant migration among patches, but mechanisms that allow this species to persist when many other similar species do not are not well understood.