We examined the genetic variability and structure in 20 subpopulations belonging to seven populations of the threatened snake Vipera aspis in the Swiss Jura mountains (n = 114) and in two subpopulations from central France (n = 12) using RAPDs (seven primers produced 70 polymorphic bands). The analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) showed that the within-populations genetic variability accounted for 87.0% and the among-populations variability for 13.0% of the total variability. The within-subpopulation genetic variability accounted for 74.3%, the among-subpopulation variability within populations for 21.5% and the among-population variability for 4.2% of the total variability. An unweighted pair group method with arithmetic means (UPGMA)-cluster analysis based on mean Jaccard distances did not assemble the subpopulations according to their populations. The combined results of the AMOVA and the cluster analysis suggest that gene flow may have occurred over large parts of the snake's distribution area. In large subpopulations the genetic variability was larger than in small subpopulations. There was no difference in the genetic variability between connected and isolated subpopulations. We suggest that habitat management may prove to be more effective in maintaining the genetic variability of V. aspis in the north-western Swiss Jura mountains than any translocation of individuals. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.
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