Defining population boundaries: use of three Bayesian approaches with microsatellite data from British natterjack toads (Bufo calamita)


Prof T.J.C. Beebee, E-mail:


Defining boundaries between populations is often difficult in the absence of information about current levels of gene flow. Such definitions can be important, however, both for the understanding of population dynamics and for conservation planning. Recently developed Bayesian methods for analysing genetic data now provide a powerful approach to this problem. Natterjack toads Bufo calamita are endangered in Britain, where their distribution is restricted to four geographically discrete regions. In three of these regions the boundaries between populations are often uncertain. We therefore used Bayesian approaches with microsatellite data to try and define British natterjack population structure, and thus inform conservation management. A large sample of natterjack toads from all 38 locations in Britain where the species is native was genotyped at eight microsatellite loci. The genetic diversity of natterjack populations declined as a function of increasing latitude, echoing postglacial colonization dynamics. Comparisons of three assignment methods (structure, baps and geneland) generated some broad similarities but also some inconsistencies in the definitions of population structure, especially in the most complex region (south Cumbria). Implications of the analyses for the future conservation of Bufo calamita in Britain are discussed.