EFFECTIVE POPULATION SIZES AND TEMPORAL STABILITY OF GENETIC STRUCTURE IN RANA PIPIENS, THE NORTHERN LEOPARD FROG

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Abstract

Abstract Although studies of population genetic structure are very common, whether genetic structure is stable over time has been assessed for very few taxa. The question of stability over time is particularly interesting for frogs because it is not clear to what extent frogs exist in dynamic metapopulations with frequent extinction and recolonization, or in stable patches at equilibrium between drift and gene flow. In this study we collected tissue samples from the same five populations of leopard frogs, Rana pipens, over a 22–30 year time interval (11–15 generations). Genetic structure among the populations was very stable, suggesting that these population were not undergoing frequent extinction and colonization. We also estimated the effective size of each population from the change in allele frequencies over time. There exist few estimates of effective size for frog populations, but the data available suggest that ranid frogs may have much larger ratios of effective size (Ne) to census size (Nc) that toads (bufonidae). Our results indicate that R. pipiens populations have effective sizes on the order of hundreds to at most a few thousand frogs, and Nee/Nc ratios in the range of 0.1–1.0. These estimates of Ne/Nc are consistent with those estimated for other Rana species. Finally, we compared the results of three temporal methods for estimating Ne. Moment and pseudolikelihood methods that assume a closed population gave the most similar point estimates, although the moment estimates were consistently two to four times larger. Wang and Whitlock's new method that jointly estimates Ne and the rate of immigration into a population (m) gave much smaller estimates of Ne and implausibly large estimates of m. This method requires knowing allele frequencies in the source of immigrants, but was thought to be insensitive to inexact estimates. In our case the method may have failed because we did not know the true source of immigrants for each population. The method may be more sensitive to choice of source frequencies than was previously appreciated, and so should be used with caution if the most likely source of immigrants cannot be identified clearly.

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