Aim: A common pattern in biogeography is the scale-dependent effect of environmental variables on the spatial distribution of species. We tested the role of climatic and land cover variables in structuring the distribution of genetic variation in the grey long-eared bat, Plecotus austriacus, across spatial scales. Although landscape genetics has been widely used to describe spatial patterns of gene flow in a variety of taxa, volant animals have generally been neglected because of their perceived high dispersal potential. Location: England and Europe. Methods: We used a multiscale integrated approach, combining population genetics with species distribution modelling and geographical information under a causal modelling framework, to identify landscape barriers to gene flow and their effect on population structure and conservation status. Genotyping involved 23 polymorphic microsatellites and 259 samples from across the species' range. Results: We identified distinct population structure shaped by geographical barriers and evidence of population fragmentation at the northern edge of the range. Habitat suitability (as captured by species distribution models, SDMs) was the most important landscape variable affecting genetic connectivity at the broad spatial scale, while at the fine scale, lowland unimproved grasslands, the main foraging habitat of P. austriacus, played a pivotal role in promoting genetic connectivity. Main conclusions: The importance of lowland unimproved grasslands in determining the biogeography and genetic connectivity in P. austriacus highlights the importance of their conservation as part of a wider landscape management for fragmented edge populations. This study illustrates the value of using SDMs in landscape genetics and highlights the need for multiscale approaches when studying genetic connectivity in volant animals or taxa with similar dispersal abilities.
- Biogeographical barriers
- Edge populations
- Landscape genetics
- Spatial scale
- Species distribution modelling