Population genetic analysis of a recent range expansion: mechanisms regulating the poleward range limit in the volcano barnacle Tetraclita rubescens

Mol Ecol. 2010 Apr;19(8):1585-605. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04588.x. Epub 2010 Mar 22.


As range shifts coincident with climate change have become increasingly well documented, efforts to describe the causes of range boundaries have increased. Three mechanisms-genetic impoverishment, migration load, or a physical barrier to dispersal-are well described theoretically, but the data needed to distinguish among them have rarely been collected. We describe the distribution, abundance, genetic variation, and environment of Tetraclita rubescens, an intertidal barnacle that expanded its northern range limit by several hundreds of kilometres from San Francisco, CA, USA, since the 1970s. We compare geographic variation in abundance with abiotic and biotic patterns, including sea surface temperatures and the distributions of 387 co-occurring species, and describe genetic variation in cytochrome c oxidase subunit I, mitochondrial noncoding region, and nine microsatellite loci from 27 locations between Bahia Magdalena (California Baja Sur, Mexico) and Cape Mendocino (CA, USA). We find very high gene flow, high genetic diversity, and a gradient in physical environmental variation coincident with the range limit. We infer that the primary cause of the northern range boundary in T. rubescens is migration load arising from flow of maladapted alleles into peripheral locations and that environmental change, which could have reduced selection against genotypes immigrating into the newly colonized portion of the range, is the most likely cause of the observed range expansion. Because environmental change could similarly affect all taxa in a region whose distributional limits are established by migration load, these mechanisms may be common causes of range boundaries and largely synchronous multi-species range expansions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Gene Flow
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genotype
  • Geography
  • Mexico
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Temperature
  • Thoracica / genetics*
  • United States


  • DNA, Mitochondrial