Assessing how environmental heterogeneity influences gene flow and adaptive evolution in terrestrial vertebrate species: Towards behavioral landscape genetics

Authors and Affiliations: 

Femke J. Pflüger & Niko Balkenhol

Dept. of Forest Zoology & Forest Conservation

University of Goettingen

Buesgenweg 3

37077 Goettingen



A current emphasis of landscape genetics lies in assessing how landscape resistance affects dispersal movements and realized gene flow. This approach emphasizes the transient phase of dispersal, but neglects the stages of departure and settlement. Here, we outline how landscape characteristics other than matrix resistance can directly and indirectly shape spatial patterns of genetic variation by influencing the dispersal behavior of animals living in complex environments. These landscape-genetic relationships can arise through (i) density-dependent emi- and immigration behavior that is affected by local habitat quality and carrying capacity, (ii) post-dispersal settlement behavior that depends on natal habitat preference induction (NHPI), and (iii) mate-choice in response to parasite-mediated selection that differs spatially with varying environmental conditions. We outline how such landscape-genetic relationships can be analyzed statistically, and how considering them could further increase the utility of landscape genetics for research in conservation (e.g., corridor design), ecology (e.g., predicting species distribution under climate change), and evolution (e.g., local adaptation, speciation). Finally, we discuss the importance of understanding the underlying behavioral mechanism when interpreting statistical results obtained in landscape genetics, and highlight future research avenues that combine genetic data with detailed information on individual movement and reproduction to fully assess the interplay between environmental heterogeneity, genetic variation, and the eco-evolutionary dynamics of wildlife populations.

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