Linking extinction-colonization dynamics to genetic structure in a salamander metapopulation

Bradley J. Cosentino, Christopher A. Phillips, Robert L. Schooley, Winsor H. Lowe, Marlis R. Douglas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theory predicts that founder effects have a primary role in determining metapopulation genetic structure. However, ecological factors that affect extinction-colonization dynamics may also create spatial variation in the strength of genetic drift and migration. We tested the hypothesis that ecological factors underlying extinction-colonization dynamics influenced the genetic structure of a tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) metapopulation. We used empirical data on metapopulation dynamics to make a priori predictions about the effects of population age and ecological factors on genetic diversity and divergence among 41 populations. Metapopulation dynamics of A. tigrinum depended on wetland area, connectivity and presence of predatory fish. We found that newly colonized populations were more genetically differentiated than established populations, suggesting that founder effects influenced genetic structure. However, ecological drivers of metapopulation dynamics were more important than age in predicting genetic structure. Consistent with demographic predictions from metapopulation theory, genetic diversity and divergence depended on wetland area and connectivity. Divergence was greatest in small, isolated wetlands where genetic diversity was low. Our results show that ecological factors underlying metapopulation dynamics can be key determinants of spatial genetic structure, and that habitat area and isolation may mediate the contributions of drift and migration to divergence and evolution in local populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1575-1582
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1733
StatePublished - Apr 22 2012


  • Ambystoma tigrinum
  • Amphibian
  • Gene flow
  • Genetic drift
  • Metapopulation
  • Population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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