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Genetics. 1993 Dec;135(4):1209-20.

Application of a random walk model to geographic distributions of animal mitochondrial DNA variation.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette 70504.


In rapidly evolving molecules, such as animal mitochondrial DNA, mutations that delineate specific lineages may not be dispersed at sufficient rates to attain an equilibrium between genetic drift and gene flow. Here we predict conditions that lead to nonequilibrium geographic distributions of mtDNA lineages, test the robustness of these predictions and examine mtDNA data sets for consistency with our model. Under a simple isolation by distance model, the variance of an mtDNA lineage's geographic distribution is expected be proportional to its age. Simulation results indicated that this relationship is fairly robust. Analysis of mtDNA data from natural populations revealed three qualitative distributional patterns: (1) significant departure of lineage structure from equilibrium geographic distributions, a pattern exhibited in three rodent species with limited dispersal; (2) nonsignificant departure from equilibrium expectations, exhibited by two avian and two marine fish species with potentials for relatively long-distance dispersal; and (3) a progression from nonequilibrium distributions for younger lineages to equilibrium distributions for older lineages, a condition displayed by one surveyed avian species. These results demonstrate the advantages of considering mutation and genealogy in the interpretation of mtDNA geographic variation.

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