Statistical approaches in landscape genetics: an evaluation of methods for linking landscape and genetic data


  • Niko Balkenhol,

  • Lisette P. Waits,

  • Raymond J. Dezzani

N. Balkenhol (, Lisette P. Waits Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-1136, USA.


The goal of landscape genetics is to detect and explain landscape effects on genetic diversity and structure. Despite the increasing popularity of landscape genetic approaches, the statistical methods for linking genetic and landscape data remain largely untested. This lack of method evaluation makes it difficult to compare studies utilizing different statistics, and compromises the future development and application of the field. To investigate the suitability and comparability of various statistical approaches used in landscape genetics, we simulated data sets corresponding to five landscape-genetic scenarios. We then analyzed these data with eleven methods, and compared the methods based on their statistical power, type-1 error rates, and their overall ability to lead researchers to accurate conclusions about landscape-genetic relationships. Results suggest that some of the most commonly applied techniques (e.g. Mantel and partial Mantel tests) have high type-1 error rates, and that multivariate, non-linear methods are better suited for landscape genetic data analysis. Furthermore, different methods generally show only moderate levels of agreement. Thus, analyzing a data set with only one method could yield method-dependent results, potentially leading to erroneous conclusions. Based on these findings, we give recommendations for choosing optimal combinations of statistical methods, and identify future research needs for landscape genetic data analyses.