Genetic Variation During Range Expansion: Effects of Habitat Novelty and Hybridization

Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Apr 12;284(1852):20170007. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0007.


How species' ranges evolve remains an enduring problem in ecology and evolutionary biology. Species' range limits are potentially set by the inability of peripheral populations to adapt to range-edge habitat. Indeed, peripheral populations are often assumed to have reduced genetic diversity and population sizes, which limit evolvability. However, support for this assumption is mixed, possibly because the genetic effects of range expansion depend on two factors: the extent that habitat into which expansion occurs is novel and sources of gene flow. Here, we used spadefoot toads, Spea bombifrons, to contrast the population genetic effects of expansion into novel versus non-novel habitat. We further evaluated gene flow from conspecifics and from heterospecifics via hybridization with a resident species. We found that range expansion into novel habitat, relative to non-novel habitat, resulted in higher genetic differentiation, lower conspecific gene flow and bottlenecks. Moreover, we found that hybridizing with a resident species introduced genetic diversity in the novel habitat. Our results suggest the evolution of species' ranges can depend on the extent of differences in habitat between ancestral and newly occupied ranges. Furthermore, our results highlight the potential for hybridization with a resident species to enhance genetic diversity during expansions into novel habitat.

Keywords: admixture; interbreeding; introgression; landscape genetics; population genetics.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anura / genetics*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Gene Flow
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Hybridization, Genetic*