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Mol Ecol. 2007 Oct;16(20):4284-94. Epub 2007 Sep 14.

Non-gradual variation in colour morphs of the strawberry poison frog Dendrobates pumilio: genetic and geographical isolation suggest a role for selection in maintaining polymorphism.

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Animal Ecology, Department of Ecology and Evolution/EBC, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, SE-752 36, Uppsala, Sweden.


The relative roles that geographical isolation and selection play in driving population divergence remain one of the central questions in evolutionary biology. We approached this question by investigating genetic and morphological variation among populations of the strawberry poison frog, Dendrobates pumilio, in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, Panama. We found significant population genetic structure and isolation by distance based on amplified fragment length polymorphism markers. Snout vent length (SVL), coloration and the extent and size of dorsal black spots showed large variation among the studied populations. Differences in SVL correlated with genetic distance, whereas black spot patterns and other coloration parameters did not. Indeed, the latter characters were observed to be dramatically different between contiguous populations located on the same island. These results imply that neutral divergence among populations may account for the genetic patterns based on amplified fragment length polymorphism markers and SVL. However, selective pressures need to be invoked in order to explain the extraordinary variation in spot size and coverage, and coloration. We discuss the possibility that the observed variation in colour morphs is a consequence of a combination of local variation in both natural selection on an aposematic signal towards visual predators and sexual selection generated by colour morph-specific mate preferences.

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