Influence of habitat fragmentation on the genetic variability in leaf litter ant populations in tropical rainforests of Sabah, Borneo

Tobias O. Bickel, Carsten A. Brühl, Jürgen R. Gadau, Bert Hölldobler, K. Eduard Linsenmair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Two ant species, Odontomachus rixosus and Pheidole annexus, were studied in the tropical rainforests of Sabah, Malaysia, North Borneo, to analyze the impact of habitat fragmentation on the genetic diversity and population structure of ant populations using RAPD-fingerprinting. Ants were sampled in a contiguous (43,800 ha) and three patches of primary rainforests of varying size (4294, 146 and 20 ha) that were fragmented about 40 years ago. We found a decrease in genetic variability for both species in the fragmented populations compared to the contiguous. Genetic distances between populations resembled the geographical arrangement of populations and can be explained by an effect of isolation by distance. A high degree in population subdivision suggests a lack of meta-population dynamics due to a shortage of gene flow between populations, possibly the result of the high degree of habitat isolation by oil palm plantations. Although the results of this study are limited due to low replication this is the first data on genetic patterns of insect populations in fragmented rainforests and should be seen as starting point for future research. The value of small to medium sized protection areas for conservation needs to be carefully evaluated in the context of this study, as even relatively large areas (4294 ha) may not prevent the critical loss of genetic variability and guarantee long-term survival of organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-175
Number of pages19
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006


  • Biodiversity
  • Genetic distance
  • Genetic diversity
  • Habitat fragmentation
  • Leaf litter ants
  • Odontomachus rixosus
  • Pheidole annexus
  • Population subdivision
  • RAPD fingerprint
  • Tropical rainforest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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