Recency, range expansion, and unsorted lineages: implications for interpreting neutral genetic variation in the sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus)


Allen W. Spaulding, Fax: 435-797-1575; E-mail:


Both current and historical patterns of variation are relevant to understanding and managing ecological diversity. Recently derived species present a challenge to the reconstruction of historical patterns because neutral molecular data for these taxa are more likely to exhibit effects of recent and ongoing demographic processes. We studied geographical patterns of neutral molecular variation in a species thought to be of relatively recent origin, Tympanuchus phasianellus (sharp-tailed grouse), using mitochondrial control region sequences (CR-I), amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP), and microsatellites. For historical context, we also analysed CR-I in all species of Tympanuchus. Within T. phasianellus, we found evidence for restricted gene flow between eastern and western portions of the species range, generally corresponding with the range boundary of T. p. columbianus and T. p. jamesi. The mismatch distribution and molecular clock estimates from the CR-I data suggested that all Tympanuchus underwent a range expansion prior to sorting of mitotypes among the species, and that sorting may have been delayed as a result of mutation-drift disequilibrium. This study illustrates the challenge of using genetic data to detect historical divergence in groups that are of relatively recent origin, or that have a history dominated by nonequilibrium conditions. We suggest that in such cases, morphological, ecological, and behavioural data may be particularly important adjuncts to molecular data for the recognition of historically or adaptively divergent groups.