Gene flow and the geographic structure of natural populations

Science  15 May 1987:
Vol. 236, Issue 4803, pp. 787-792
DOI: 10.1126/science.3576198


There is abundant geographic variation in both morphology and gene frequency in most species. The extent of geographic variation results from a balance of forces tending to produce local genetic differentiation and forces tending to produce genetic homogeneity. Mutation, genetic drift due to finite population size, and natural selection favoring adaptations to local environmental conditions will all lead to the genetic differentiation of local populations, and the movement of gametes, individuals, and even entire populations--collectively called gene flow--will oppose that differentiation. Gene flow may either constrain evolution by preventing adaptation to local conditions or promote evolution by spreading new genes and combinations of genes throughout a species' range. Several methods are available for estimating the amount of gene flow. Direct methods monitor ongoing gene flow, and indirect methods use spatial distributions of gene frequencies to infer past gene flow. Applications of these methods show that species differ widely in the gene flow that they experience. Of particular interest are those species for which direct methods indicate little current gene flow but indirect methods indicate much higher levels of gene flow in the recent past. Such species probably have undergone large-scale demographic changes relatively frequently.

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