Past population history versus recent population decline – founder effects in island species and their genetic signatures



Island populations are mostly characterized by low genetic diversity if compared with their mainland conspecifics. This is often explained as a consequence of founder effects in the wake of island colonization and concomitant bottlenecks. In a recent contribution, Stuessy et al. (Journal of Biogeography, 2012, 39, 1565–1566) point out that the genetic imprint of past founder effects is no longer visible today, as most island colonizations occurred millions of generations ago. The authors argue that low genetic diversity detectable today is mainly caused by recent environmental factors such as anthropogenic habitat destruction. This scenario should be complemented by the influence of long-term isolation and small habitat size, which often lead to strong population fluctuations and repeated bottlenecks. In consequence, inbreeding and genetic drift, coupled with the potential effects of purging in small populations, may also result in genetic diversity remaining low for a long time after colonization.