Reconciling field observations of dispersal with estimates of gene flow


Andy Jones, Fax: +44 (0)20 7594 2339;


Montgomery Slatkin, in a classic article concerning the role of gene flow in determining population genetic structure in natural populations noted an inconsistency between observations made in the field of limited dispersal of weakly flying insect and population genetic analyses of genetic structure which revealed extensive gene flow among populations. This phenomenon was subsequently termed Slatkin’s Paradox. In this issue, Yu et al. (2010) provide an example of Slatkin’s Paradox in a study of seed and pollen gene flow in the dioecious understory fig Ficus hirta in southern Asia. Given multiple field observations that showed the low vagility of fig wasp pollinators of dioecious figs and the high movement capacity of its vertebrate seed dispersers, the authors expected to see higher levels of gene movement of seed versus pollen. They compared neutral genetic differentiation across 15 populations separated by >2500 km at six nuclear microsatellite and two chloroplast loci and found that F. hirta shows an order of magnitude higher level of gene flow of pollen relative to seeds that challenges observations of limited dispersal of fig wasps that pollinate dioecious figs. They propose broadening the application of Slatkin’s Paradox beyond insects to include situations where an incongruity exists between ecological measures of low dispersal and high levels of effective gene flow.