Landscape genetics of the blotched tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum melanostictum)


Stephen F. Spear, Fax: (509) 335-3184; E-mail:


The field of landscape genetics has great potential to identify habitat features that influence population genetic structure. To identify landscape correlates of genetic differentiation in a quantitative fashion, we developed a novel approach using geographical information systems analysis. We present data on blotched tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum melanostictum) from 10 sites across the northern range of Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming, USA. We used eight microsatellite loci to analyse population genetic structure. We tested whether landscape variables, including topographical distance, elevation, wetland likelihood, cover type and number of river and stream crossings, were correlated with genetic subdivision (FST). We then compared five hypothetical dispersal routes with a straight-line distance model using two approaches: (i) partial Mantel tests using Akaike's information criterion scores to evaluate model robustness and (ii) the BIOENV procedure, which uses a Spearman rank correlation to determine the combination of environmental variables that best fits the genetic data. Overall, gene flow appears highly restricted among sites, with a global FST of 0.24. While there is a significant isolation-by-distance pattern, incorporating landscape variables substantially improved the fit of the model (from an r2 of 0.3 to 0.8) explaining genetic differentiation. It appears that gene flow follows a straight-line topographic route, with river crossings and open shrub habitat correlated with lower FST and thus, decreased differentiation, while distance and elevation difference appear to increase differentiation. This study demonstrates a general approach that can be used to determine the influence of landscape variables on population genetic structure.