Population genetic consequences of geographic disjunction: a prairie plant isolated on Great Lakes alvars


C. G. Eckert, Fax: 1613-533-6617; E-mail:


Species may often exhibit geographic variation in population genetic structure due to contemporary and historical variation in population size and gene flow. Here, we test the predictions that populations on the margins of a species’ distribution contain less genetic variation and are more differentiated than populations towards the core of the range by comparing patterns of genetic variation at five microsatellite loci between disjunct and core populations of the perennial, allohexaploid herb Geum triflorum. We sampled nine populations isolated on alvar habitat within the eastern Great Lakes region in North America, habitats that include disjunct populations of several plant species, and compared these to 16 populations sampled from prairie habitat throughout the core of the species’ distribution in midwestern Canada and the USA. Alvar populations exhibited much lower within-population diversity and contained only a subset of alleles found in prairie populations. We detected isolation by distance across the species’ range and within alvar and prairie regions separately. As predicted, genetic differentiation was higher among alvar populations than among prairie populations, even after controlling for the geographic distance between sampled populations. Low diversity and high differentiation can be accounted for by the greater contemporary spatial isolation of alvar populations. However, the genetic structure of alvar populations may also have been influenced by postglacial range expansion and contraction. Our results are consistent with alvar populations being founded during an expansion of prairie habitat during the warmer, hypsithermal period ∼5000 bp and subsequently becoming stranded on isolated alvar habitat as the climate grew cooler and wetter.