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Keywords:

  • gene flow;
  • introgression;
  • long-distance dispersal;
  • maximum likelihood;
  • pollination;
  • recent migration

Abstract

There are few statistical methods for estimating contemporary dispersal among plant populations. A maximum-likelihood procedure is introduced here that uses pre- and post-dispersal population samples of biparentally inherited genetic markers to jointly estimate contemporary seed and pollen immigration rates from a set of discrete external sources into a target population. Monte Carlo simulations indicate that accurate estimates and reliable confidence intervals can be obtained using this method for both pollen and seed migration rates at modest sample sizes (100 parents/population and 100 offspring) when population differentiation is moderate (FST ≥ 0.1), or by increasing pre-dispersal samples (to about 500 parents/population) when genetic divergence is weak (FST = 0.01). The method exhibited low sensitivity to the number of source populations and achieved good accuracy at affordable genetic resolution (10 loci with 10 equifrequent alleles each). Unsampled source populations introduced positive biases in migration rate estimates from sampled sources, although they were minor when the proportion of immigration from the latter was comparatively low. A practical application of the method to a metapopulation of the Australian resprouter shrub Banksia attenuata revealed comparable levels of directional seed and pollen migration among dune groups, and the estimate of seed dispersal was higher than a previous estimate based on conservative assignment tests. The method should be of interest to researchers and managers assessing broad-scale nonequilibrium seed and pollen gene flow dynamics in plants.