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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 Dec 22;268(1485):2571-4.

Deriving dispersal distances from genetic data.

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  • 1Department of Animal Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvagen 18D, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden. goran.spong@ebc.uu.se

Abstract

Dispersal is one of the most important factors determining the genetic structure of a population, but good data on dispersal distances are rare because it is difficult to observe a large sample of dispersal events. However, genetic data contain unbiased information about the average dispersal distances in species with a strong sex bias in their dispersal rates. By plotting the genetic similarity between members of the philopatric sex against some measure of the distance between them, the resulting regression line can be used for estimating how far dispersing individuals of the opposite sex have moved before settling. Dispersers showing low genetic similarity to members of the opposite sex will on average have originated from further away. Applying this method to a microsatellite dataset from lions (Panthera leo) shows that their average dispersal distance is 1.3 home ranges with a 95% confidence interval of 0.4-3.0 home ranges. These results are consistent with direct observations of dispersal from our study population and others. In this case, direct observations of dispersal distance were not detectably biased by a failure to detect long-range dispersal, which is thought to be a common problem in the estimation of dispersal distance.

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