Landscape genetics of alpine Sierra Nevada salamanders reveal extreme population subdivision in space and time


Wesley K. Savage, Fax: 1 530 752 1449; E-mail:


Quantifying the influence of the landscape on the genetic structure of natural populations remains an important empirical challenge, particularly for poorly studied, ecologically cryptic species. We conducted an extensive microsatellite analysis to examine the population genetics of the southern long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum) in a naturally complex landscape. Using spatially explicit modelling, we investigated the influence of the Sierra Nevada topography on potential dispersal corridors between sampled populations. Our results indicate very high-genetic divergence among populations, high within-deme relatedness, and little evidence of recent migration or population admixture. We also discovered unexpectedly high between-year genetic differentiation (FST) for breeding sites, suggesting that breeding groups vary over localized space and time. While environmental factors associated with high-elevation montane habitats apparently play an important role in shaping population differentiation, additional, species-specific biological processes must also be operating to account for observed deviations from temporal, among-year panmixia. Our study emphasizes the population-level insights that can be gained from high-density sampling in space and time, and the highly substructured population biology that may characterize amphibians in extreme montane habitats.