• Biogeography;
  • evolutionary genomics;
  • gene flow;
  • genetic variation;
  • population structure

We propose a method that uses genetic data to test for the occurrence of a recent range expansion and to infer the location of the origin of the expansion. We introduce a statistic ψ (the directionality index) that detects asymmetries in the 2D allele frequency spectrum of pairs of population. These asymmetries are caused by the series of founder events that happen during an expansion and they arise because low frequency alleles tend to be lost during founder events, thus creating clines in the frequencies of surviving low-frequency alleles. Using simulations, we show that ψ is more powerful for detecting range expansions than both inline image and clines in heterozygosity. We also show how we can adapt our approach to more complicated scenarios such as expansions with multiple origins or barriers to migration and we illustrate the utility of ψ by applying it to a data set from modern humans.