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Keywords:

  • Coalescence;
  • divergence;
  • genetic drift;
  • glacial cycles;
  • incomplete lineage sorting;
  • Pleistocene;
  • speciation;
  • statistical phylogeography

Patterns of genetic variation can provide valuable insights for deciphering the relative roles of different evolutionary processes in species differentiation. However, population-genetic models for studying divergence in geographically structured species are generally lacking. Since these are the biogeographic settings where genetic drift is expected to predominate, not only are population-genetic tests of hypotheses in geographically structured species constrained, but generalizations about the evolutionary processes that promote species divergence may also be potentially biased. Here we estimate a population-divergence model in montane grasshoppers from the sky islands of the Rocky Mountains. Because this region was directly impacted by Pleistocene glaciation, both the displacement into glacial refugia and recolonization of montane habitats may contribute to differentiation. Building on the tradition of using information from the genealogical relationships of alleles to infer the geography of divergence, here the additional consideration of the process of gene-lineage sorting is used to obtain a quantitative estimate of population relationships and historical associations (i.e., a population tree) from the gene trees of five anonymous nuclear loci and one mitochondrial locus in the broadly distributed species Melanoplus oregonensis. Three different approaches are used to estimate a model of population divergence; this comparison allows us to evaluate specific methodological assumptions that influence the estimated history of divergence. A model of population divergence was identified that significantly fits the data better compared to the other approaches, based on per-site likelihood scores of the multiple loci, and that provides clues about how divergence proceeded in M. oregonensis during the dynamic Pleistocene. Unlike the approaches that either considered only the most recent coalescence (i.e., information from a single individual per population) or did not consider the pattern of coalescence in the gene genealogies, the population-divergence model that best fits the data was estimated by considering the pattern of gene lineage coalescence across multiple individuals, as well as loci. These results indicate that sampling of multiple individuals per population is critical to obtaining an accurate estimate of the history of divergence so that the signal of common ancestry can be separated from the confounding influence of gene flow—even though estimates suggest that gene flow is not a predominant factor structuring patterns of genetic variation across these sky island populations. They also suggest that the gene genealogies contain information about population relationships, despite the lack of complete sorting of gene lineages. What emerges from the analyses is a model of population divergence that incorporates both contemporary distributions and historical associations, and shows a latitudinal and regional structuring of populations reminiscent of population displacements into multiple glacial refugia. Because the population-divergence model itself is built upon the specific events shaping the history of M. oregonensis, it provides a framework for estimating additional population-genetic parameters relevant to understanding the processes governing differentiation in geographically structured species and avoids the problems of relying on overly simplified and inaccurate divergence models. The utility of these approaches, as well as the caveats and future improvements, for estimating population relationships and historical associations relevant to genetic analyses of geographically structured species are discussed.