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Interactions between environmental factors can hide isolation by distance patterns: a case study of Ctenomys rionegrensis in Uruguay

By Marcelo J Kittlein and Oscar E Gaggiotti


Identifying the factors responsible for the structuring of genetic diversity is of fundamental importance for biodiversity conservation. However, arriving at such understanding is difficult owing to the many factors involved and the potential interactions between them. Here, we present an example of how such interactions can preclude us from arriving at a complete characterization of the demographic history and genetic structure of a species. Ctenomys rionegrensis is a species with restricted dispersal abilities and, as such, should exhibit an isolation by distance (IBD) pattern, which previous studies were unable to uncover. It was therefore concluded that this species underwent a recent population expansion. Using a novel hierarchical Bayesian method, we show that the inability to detect the IBD pattern is due to the interaction between elevation and geographical distance. We posit that populations in low areas suffer periodic floods that may reduce local population sizes, increasing genetic drift, a process that masks the effect of distance on genetic differentiation. Our results do not refute the possibility that the populations of C. rionegrensis underwent a recent population expansion but they indicate that an alternative scenario described by a metapopulation model at or near migration-drift equilibrium cannot be excluded either

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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