A meta-analysis of isolation by distance: relic or reference standard for landscape genetics?


  • David G. Jenkins,

  • Michael Carey,

  • Justyna Czerniewska,

  • Jennifer Fletcher,

  • Tyler Hether,

  • Amanda Jones,

  • Stacy Knight,

  • Joseph Knox,

  • Tonya Long,

  • Mary Mannino,

  • Morgan McGuire,

  • Andrea Riffle,

  • Shannon Segelsky,

  • Logan Shappell,

  • Andrew Sterner,

  • Treanna Strickler,

  • Rosanna Tursi

D. G. Jenkins (dgjenkin@mail.ucf.edu), M. Carey, J. Czerniewska, J. Fletcher, T. Hether, A. Jones, S. Knight, J. Knox, T. Long, M. Mannino, M. McGuire, A. Riffle, S. Segelsky, L. Shappell, A. Sterner, T. Strickler and R. Tursi, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Central Florida, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando, FL 32816-2368, USA.


Isolation by distance (IBD) has been a common measure of genetic structure among populations and is based on Euclidean distances among populations. Whereas IBD does not incorporate geographic complexity (e.g. dispersal barriers, corridors) that may better predict genetic structure, a new approach (landscape genetics) joins landscape ecology with population genetics to better model genetic structure. Should IBD be set aside or should it persist as the most simple model in landscape genetics? We evaluated the status of IBD by collecting and analyzing results of 240 IBD data sets among diverse taxa and study systems. IBD typically represented a low proportion of variance in genetic structure (mean r2=0.22) in part because many studies included relatively few populations (mean=11). The number of populations studied (N) was asymptotically related to IBD significance; a study with 9 populations has only 50% probability of significance, while one with >23 populations will have 90% probability of significance. Surprisingly, ectothermic animals were significantly (p=0.0018) more likely to have significant IBD than endotherms, which suggests a metabolic basis underlying gene flow rates. We also observed marginally significant effects on IBD significance for a) taxa in general and b) dispersal modes within actively-dispersing endotherms. Other factors analyzed (genetic markers, genetic distances, habitats, active or passive dispersal, plant growth form) did not significantly affect IBD, likely related to typical N. For multiple reasons we conclude that IBD should continue as the simplest reference standard against which all other, more complex models should be compared in landscape genetics research.