Fine-scale population genetic structure and sex-biased dispersal in the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) in southern England

Angelo Pernetta, J.A. Allen, T.J.C. Beebee, C.J. Reading

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human-induced alteration of natural habitats has the potential to impact on the genetic structuring of remnant populations at multiple spatial scales. Species from higher trophic levels, such as snakes, are expected to be particularly susceptible to land-use changes. We examined fine-scale population structure and looked for evidence of sex-biased dispersal in smooth snakes ( Coronella austriaca), sampled from 10 heathland localities situated within a managed coniferous forest in Dorset, United Kingdom. Despite the limited distances between heathland areas (maximum <6 km), there was a small but significant structuring of populations based on eight microsatellite loci. This followed an isolation-by-distance model using both straight line and ‘biological’ distances between sampling sites, suggesting C. austriaca's low vagility as the causal factor, rather than closed canopy conifer forest exerting an effect as a barrier to dispersal. Within population comparisons of male and female snakes showed evidence for sex-biased dispersal, with three of four analyses finding significantly higher dispersal in males than in females. We suggest that the fine-scale spatial genetic structuring and sex-biased dispersal have important implications for the conservation of C. austriaca, and highlight the value of heathland areas within commercial conifer plantations with regards to their future management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-238
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2011


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