We investigated genetic population structure in wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) from a series of Prairie Pothole wetlands in the northern Great Plains. Amphibians are often thought to exist in demographic metapopulations, which require some movement between populations, yet genetic studies have revealed strong subdivision among populations, even at relatively fine scales (several km). Wood frogs are highly philopatric and studies of dispersal suggest that they may exhibit subdivision on a scale of ≈ 1–2 km. We used microsatellites to examine population structure among 11 breeding assemblages separated by as little as 50 m up to ≈ 5.5 km, plus one population separated from the others by 20 km. We found evidence for differentiation at the largest distances we examined and among a few neighbouring ponds, but most populations were strikingly similar in allele frequencies, suggesting high gene flow among all but the most distant populations. We hypothesize that the few significant differences among neighbouring populations at the finest scale may be a transient effect of extinction–recolonization founder events, driven by periodic drying of wetlands in this hydrologically dynamic landscape.
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