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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Jun 12;364(1523):1543-54. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0010.

Non-random distribution of individual genetic diversity along an environmental gradient.

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  • 1Département de Biologie, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.


Improving our knowledge of the links between ecology and evolution is especially critical in the actual context of global rapid environmental changes. A critical step in that direction is to quantify how variation in ecological factors linked to habitat modifications might shape observed levels of genetic variability in wild populations. Still, little is known on the factors affecting levels and distribution of genetic diversity at the individual level, despite its vital underlying role in evolutionary processes. In this study, we assessed the effects of habitat quality on population structure and individual genetic diversity of tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) breeding along a gradient of agricultural intensification in southern Québec, Canada. Using a landscape genetics approach, we found that individual genetic diversity was greater in poorer quality habitats. This counter-intuitive result was partly explained by the settlement patterns of tree swallows across the landscape. Individuals of higher genetic diversity arrived earlier on their breeding grounds and settled in the first available habitats, which correspond to intensive cultures. Our results highlight the importance of investigating the effects of environmental variability on individual genetic diversity, and of integrating information on landscape structure when conducting such studies.

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