Population genetic analysis identifies source–sink dynamics for two sympatric garter snake species (Thamnophis elegans and Thamnophis sirtalis)


Mollie K. Manier, Hopkins Marine Station, Oceanview Blvd., Pacific Grove, CA 93959-3094, USA. Fax: 831-655-6215; E-mail: manier@stanford.edu


Population genetic structure can be shaped by multiple ecological and evolutionary factors, but the genetic consequences of these factors for multiple species inhabiting the same environment remain unexplored. We used microsatellite markers to examine the population structures of two coexisting species of garter snake, Thamnophis elegans and Thamnophis sirtalis, to determine if shared landscape and biology imposed similar population genetic structures. These snakes inhabit a series of ponds, lakes and flooded meadows in northern California and tend to converge on prey type wherever they coexist. Both garter snakes had comparable effective population sizes and bidirectional migration rates (estimated using a maximum-likelihood method based on the coalescent) with low but significant levels of genetic differentiation (FST = 0.024 for T. elegans and 0.035 for T. sirtalis). Asymmetrical gene flow revealed large source populations for both species as well as potential sinks, suggesting frequent extinction–recolonization and metapopulation dynamics. In addition, we found a significant correlation between their genetic structures based on both pairwise FSTs for shared populations (P = 0.009) and for bidirectional migration rates (P = 0.024). Possible ecological and evolutionary factors influencing similarities and differences in genetic structure for the two species are discussed. Genetic measures of effective population size and migration rates obtained in this study are also compared with estimates obtained from mark–recapture data.