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Genetic structure is correlated with phenotypic divergence rather than geographic isolation in the highly polymorphic strawberry poison-dart frog


Ian. J. Wang, Fax: 1-530-752-1449; E-mail:


Phenotypic and genetic divergence can be influenced by a variety of factors, including sexual and natural selection, genetic drift and geographic isolation. Investigating the roles of these factors in natural systems can provide insight into the relative influences of allopatric and ecological modes of biological diversification in nature. The strawberry poison frog, Dendrobates pumilio, presents an excellent opportunity for this kind of research, displaying a diverse array of colour morphs and inhabiting a heterogeneous landscape that includes oceanic islands, fragmented rainforest patches and wide expanses of suitable habitat. In this study, we use 15 highly polymorphic microsatellite loci to estimate population structure and gene flow among populations from across the range of D. pumilio and a causal modelling framework to statistically test 12 hypotheses regarding the geographic and phenotypic variables that explain genetic differentiation within this system. Our results demonstrate that the genetic distance between populations is most strongly associated with differences in dorsal coloration. Previous experimental studies have shown that phenotypic differences can result in sexual and natural selection against non-native phenotypes, and our results now show that these forces lead to genetic isolation between different colour morphs in the wild, presenting a potential case of incipient speciation through selection.