Population geneticists and community ecologists have long recognized the importance of sampling design for uncovering patterns of diversity within and among populations and in communities. Invasion ecologists increasingly have utilized phylogeographical patterns of mitochondrial or chloroplast DNA sequence variation to link introduced populations with putative source populations. However, many studies have ignored lessons from population genetics and community ecology and are vulnerable to sampling errors owing to insufficient field collections. A review of published invasion studies that utilized mitochondrial or chloroplast DNA markers reveals that insufficient sampling could strongly influence results and interpretations. Sixty per cent of studies sampled an average of less than six individuals per source population, vs. only 45% for introduced populations. Typically, far fewer introduced than source populations were surveyed, although they were sampled more intensively. Simulations based on published data forming a comprehensive mtDNA haplotype data set highlight and quantify the impact of the number of individuals surveyed per source population and number of putative source populations surveyed for accurate assignment of introduced individuals. Errors associated with sampling a low number of individuals are most acute when rare source haplotypes are dominant or fixed in the introduced population. Accuracy of assignment of introduced individuals is also directly related to the number of source populations surveyed and to the degree of genetic differentiation among them (FST). Incorrect interpretations resulting from sampling errors can be avoided if sampling design is considered before field collections are made.
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