Background: Urbanization is a major cause of habitat fragmentation worldwide. Ecological and conservation theory predicts many potential impacts of habitat fragmentation on natural populations, including genetic impacts. Habitat fragmentation by urbanization causes populations of animals and plants to be isolated in patches of suitable habitat that are surrounded by non-native vegetation or severely altered vegetation, asphalt, concrete, and human structures. This can lead to genetic divergence between patches and in turn to decreased genetic diversity within patches through genetic drift and inbreeding.
Methodology/principal findings: We examined population genetic patterns using microsatellites in four common vertebrate species, three lizards and one bird, in highly fragmented urban southern California. Despite significant phylogenetic, ecological, and mobility differences between these species, all four showed similar and significant reductions in gene flow over relatively short geographic and temporal scales. For all four species, the greatest genetic divergence was found where development was oldest and most intensive. All four animals also showed significant reduction in gene flow associated with intervening roads and freeways, the degree of patch isolation, and the time since isolation.
Conclusions/significance: Despite wide acceptance of the idea in principle, evidence of significant population genetic changes associated with fragmentation at small spatial and temporal scales has been rare, even in smaller terrestrial vertebrates, and especially for birds. Given the striking pattern of similar and rapid effects across four common and widespread species, including a volant bird, intense urbanization may represent the most severe form of fragmentation, with minimal effective movement through the urban matrix.