Shrubs and trees are assumed less likely to lose genetic variation in response to habitat fragmentation because they have certain life-history characteristics such as long lifespans and extensive pollen flow. To test this assumption, we conducted a meta-analysis with data on 97 woody plant species derived from 98 studies of habitat fragmentation. We measured the weighted response of four different measures of population-level genetic diversity to habitat fragmentation with Hedge’s d and Spearman rank correlation.
We tested whether the genetic response to habitat fragmentation was mediated by life-history traits (longevity, pollination mode, and seed dispersal vector) and study characteristics (genetic marker and plant material
used). For both tests of effect size habitat fragmentation was associated with a substantial decrease in expected
heterozygosity, number of alleles, and percentage of polymorphic loci, whereas the population inbreeding coefficient was not associated with these measures. The largest proportion of variation among effect sizes was
explained by pollination mechanism and by the age of the tissue (progeny or adult) that was genotyped. Our primary finding was that wind-pollinated trees and shrubs appeared to be as likely to lose genetic variation as insect-pollinated species, indicating that severe habitat fragmentation may lead to pollen limitation and limited gene flow. In comparison with results of previous meta-analyses on mainly herbaceous species, we found trees and shrubs were as likely to have negative genetic responses to habitat fragmentation as herbaceous species. We also found that the genetic variation in offspring was generally less than that of adult trees, which is evidence of a genetic extinction debt and probably reflects the genetic diversity of the historical, less-fragmented landscape.