Population genetics and the evolution of geographic range limits in an annual plant

Am Nat. 2011 Oct;178 Suppl 1:S44-57. doi: 10.1086/661783. Epub 2011 Sep 12.


Abstract Theoretical models of species' geographic range limits have identified both demographic and evolutionary mechanisms that prevent range expansion. Stable range limits have been paradoxical for evolutionary biologists because they represent locations where populations chronically fail to respond to selection. Distinguishing among the proposed causes of species' range limits requires insight into both current and historical population dynamics. The tools of molecular population genetics provide a window into the stability of range limits, historical demography, and rates of gene flow. Here we evaluate alternative range limit models using a multilocus data set based on DNA sequences and microsatellites along with field demographic data from the annual plant Clarkia xantiana ssp. xantiana. Our data suggest that central and peripheral populations have very large historical and current effective population sizes and that there is little evidence for population size changes or bottlenecks associated with colonization in peripheral populations. Whereas range limit populations appear to have been stable, central populations exhibit a signature of population expansion and have contributed asymmetrically to the genetic diversity of peripheral populations via migration. Overall, our results discount strictly demographic models of range limits and more strongly support evolutionary genetic models of range limits, where adaptation is prevented by a lack of genetic variation or maladaptive gene flow.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Clarkia / genetics*
  • DNA, Plant
  • Environment
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Gene Flow*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Geography
  • Population Dynamics


  • DNA, Plant