The maintenance of genetic variation due to asymmetric gene flow in dendritic metapopulations

Michael Blair Morrissey, Derrick de Kerckhove

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135 Citations (Scopus)
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Dendritic landscapes can have ecological properties that differ importantly from simpler spatial arrangements of habitats. Most dendritic landscapes are structured by elevation, and therefore, migration is likely to be directionally biased. While the population‐genetic consequences of both dendritic landscape arrangements and asymmetric migration have begun to be studied, these processes have not been considered together. Simple conceptual models predict that if migration into branch (headwater) populations is limited, such populations can act as reservoirs for potentially unique alleles. As a consequence of the fact that dendritic landscapes have, by definition, more branches than internal habitat patches, this process may lead to the maintenance of higher overall genetic diversities in metapopulations inhabiting dendritic networks where migration is directionally biased. Here we begin to address the generality of these simple predictions using genetic models and a review of empirical literature. We show, for a range of demographic parameters, that dendritic systems with asymmetric migration can maintain levels of genetic variation that are very different, sometimes very elevated, compared with more classical models of geographical population structure. Furthermore, predicted patterns of genetic variation within metapopulations—that is, stepwise increases in genetic diversity at nodes—do occur in some empirical data.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-889
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • Asymmetric
  • Migration
  • Dendritic
  • Metapopulations
  • Genetic variation


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