Roads can have two important effects on populations that impact genetic variation: reduced gene flow and reduced abundance. Reduced gene flow (" barrier effects") due to road avoidance behavior or road mortality can lead to reduced genetic diversity because genetic drift is enhanced in fragmented populations. Road mortality can also reduce population abundance (" depletion effects") whenever road-caused mortality outpaces recruitment, also lowering diversity even when barrier effects are inconsequential. Although roads are expected to affect both genetic diversity and fragmentation, most research focuses only on fragmentation. Furthermore, in studies that do investigate road effects on genetic diversity, correlations are usually attributed to barrier effects and little attention is paid to the potentially confounding influence of mortality-caused depletion effects. Here we investigate the relative importance of barrier and depletion effects on genetic diversity of populations separated by a road by performing coalescent simulations wherein these two road effects are varied independently. By simulating wide ranging rates of migration and population decline, we also determine how the importance of these forces changes depending on their relative magnitude. We show that the vast majority of potential variation in genetic diversity is governed by depletion (mortality) rather than barrier effects. We also show that unless migration is sufficiently high and population decline due to mortality is sufficiently low, increasing migration across roads will generally not recoup genetic variation lost due to road mortality. We argue that the genetic effects of road-mediated mortality have been underappreciated and should be more often considered before prioritizing road-mitigation measures.

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Keywords Highway, Landscape connectivity, Landscape genetics, Road ecology, Traffic mortality, Wildlife crossing structure
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Journal Biological Conservation
Jackson, N.D. (Nathan D.), & Fahrig, L. (2011). Relative effects of road mortality and decreased connectivity on population genetic diversity. Biological Conservation, 144(12), 3143–3148. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2011.09.010