High and distinct range-edge genetic diversity despite local bottlenecks

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 10;8(7):e68646. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068646. eCollection 2013.


The genetic consequences of living on the edge of distributional ranges have been the subject of a largely unresolved debate. Populations occurring along persistent low latitude ranges (rear-edge) are expected to retain high and unique genetic diversity. In contrast, currently less favourable environmental conditions limiting population size at such range-edges may have caused genetic erosion that prevails over past historical effects, with potential consequences on reducing future adaptive capacity. The present study provides an empirical test of whether population declines towards a peripheral range might be reflected on decreasing diversity and increasing population isolation and differentiation. We compare population genetic differentiation and diversity with trends in abundance along a latitudinal gradient towards the peripheral distribution range of Saccorhiza polyschides, a large brown seaweed that is the main structural species of kelp forests in SW Europe. Signatures of recent bottleneck events were also evaluated to determine whether the recently recorded distributional shifts had a negative influence on effective population size. Our findings show decreasing population density and increasing spatial fragmentation and local extinctions towards the southern edge. Genetic data revealed two well supported groups with a central contact zone. As predicted, higher differentiation and signs of bottlenecks were found at the southern edge region. However, a decrease in genetic diversity associated with this pattern was not verified. Surprisingly, genetic diversity increased towards the edge despite bottlenecks and much lower densities, suggesting that extinctions and recolonizations have not strongly reduced diversity or that diversity might have been even higher there in the past, a process of shifting genetic baselines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • Europe
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Phaeophyta / genetics*
  • Phylogeography
  • Population Density
  • Population Dynamics

Grant support

This study was supported by the FCT - Portuguese Science Foundation (project PTDC/AAC-CLI/109108/2008 (EDGES), project EXCL/AAG-GLO/0661/2012 (EXTANT) and PhD fellowship ref. SFRH / BD / 65702 / 2009). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.