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Fine-scale genetic structure and dispersal in the common vole (Microtus arvalis)

Authors

  • MANUEL SCHWEIZER,

    1. Computational and Molecular Population Genetics Lab (CMPG), Zoological Institute, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
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  • LAURENT EXCOFFIER,

    1. Computational and Molecular Population Genetics Lab (CMPG), Zoological Institute, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
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  • GERALD HECKEL

    1. Computational and Molecular Population Genetics Lab (CMPG), Zoological Institute, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
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Gerald Heckel, Fax: +41 (0)31 631 31 88; E-mail: gerald.heckel@zoo.unibe.ch

Abstract

The genetic structure and demography of local populations is tightly linked to the rate and scale of dispersal. Dispersal parameters are notoriously difficult to determine in the field, and remain often completely unknown for smaller organisms. In this study, we investigate spatial and temporal genetic structure in relation to dispersal patterns among local populations of the probably most abundant European mammals, the common vole (Microtus arvalis). Voles were studied in six natural populations at distances of 0.4–2.5 km in three different seasons (fall, spring, summer) corresponding to different life-history stages. Field observations provided no direct evidence for movements of individuals between populations. The analysis of 10 microsatellite markers revealed a persistent overall genetic structure among populations of 2.9%, 2.5% and 3%FST in the respective season. Pairwise comparisons showed that even the closest populations were significantly differentiated from each other in each season, but there was no evidence for temporal differentiation within populations or isolation by distance among populations. Despite significant genetic structure, assignment analyses identified a relatively high proportion of individuals as being immigrants for the population where they were captured. The immigration rate was not significantly lower for females than for males. We suggest that a generally low and sex-dependent effective dispersal rate as the consequence of only few immigrants reproducing successfully in the new populations together with the social structure within populations may explain the maintenance of genetic differentiation among populations despite migration.

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