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Importance of genetic drift during Pleistocene divergence as revealed by analyses of genomic variation


L. Lacey Knowles, Fax: 734-763-4080; E-mail:


Determining what factors affect the structuring of genetic variation is key to deciphering the relative roles of different evolutionary processes in species differentiation. Such information is especially critical to understanding how the frequent shifts and fragmentation of species distributions during the Pleistocene translates into species differences, and why the effect of such rapid climate change on patterns of species diversity varies among taxa. Studies of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have detected significant population structure in many species, including those directly impacted by the glacial cycles. Yet, understanding the ultimate consequence of such structure, as it relates to how species divergence occurs, requires demonstration that such patterns are also shared with genomic patterns of differentiation. Here we present analyses of amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) in the montane grasshopper Melanoplus oregonensis to assess the evolutionary significance of past demographic events and associated drift-induced divergence as inferred from mtDNA. As an inhabitant of the sky islands of the northern Rocky Mountains, this species was subject to repeated and frequent shifts in species distribution in response to the many glacial cycles. Nevertheless, significant genetic structuring of M. oregonensis is evident at two different geographic and temporal scales: recent divergence associated with the recolonization of the montane meadows in individual sky islands, as well as older divergence associated with displacements into regional glacial refugia. The genomic analyses indicate that drift-induced divergence, despite the lack of long-standing geographic barriers, has significantly contributed to species divergence during the Pleistocene. Moreover, the finding that divergence associated with past demographic events involves the repartitioning of ancestral variation without significant reductions of genomic diversity has intriguing implications — namely, the further amplification of drift-induced divergence by selection.