• Gene frequency divergence;
  • founder effects


The estimation of gene flow using gene frequency divergence information has become increasingly popular because of the difficulty involved in the direct determination of gene flow among populations. The present study examined allozyme gene frequencies in populations of eighteen aquatic invertebrate taxa at two sites in northern Canada. Gene frequencies at polymorpic loci were significantly different among 8–31 localized populations of all species at Igloolik and among 10–36 populations at Churchill confirming the generality of gene pool fragmentation in pond-dwelling organisms. Measures of gene flow estimated from gene frequency divergence, which assume that gene frequency distributions are at equilibrium, were inconsistent with the probable dispersal capacities of taxa. This provoked an examination of historical events as alternative explanations. Both theory and computer simulations demonstrated that when populations grow rapidly in size after founding from few individuals, the gene frequency divergence established during colonization is resistant to decay by gene exchange. Our work suggests that gene frequency distributions are often not in equilibrium and that caution should be employed in attempts to infer gene flow from them in natural populations.