Spatial genetic structure under limited dispersal: theory, methods and consequences of isolation-by-distance
Isolation-by-distance is a specific type of spatial genetic structure that arises when parent-offspring dispersal is limited. Many natural populations exhibit localized dispersal, and as a result, individuals that are geographically near each other will tend to have greater genetic similarity than individuals that are further apart. It is important to identify isolation-by-distance because it can impact the statistical analysis of population samples and it can help us better understand evolutionary dynamics. For this dissertation I investigated several aspects of isolation-by-distance. First, I looked at how the shape of the dispersal distribution affects the observed pattern of isolation-by-distance. If, as theory predicts, the shape of the distribution has little effect, then it would be more practical to model isolation-by-distance using a simple dispersal distribution rather than replicating the complexities of more realistic distributions. Therefore, I developed an efficient algorithm to simulate dispersal based on a simple triangular distribution, and using a simulation, I confirmed that the pattern of isolation-by-distance was similar to other more realistic distributions. Second, I developed a Bayesian method to quantify isolation-by-distance using genetic data by estimating Wright’s neighborhood size parameter. I analyzed the performance of this method using simulated data and a microsatellite data set from two populations of Maritime pine, and I found that the neighborhood size estimates had good coverage and low error. Finally, one of the major consequences of isolation-by-distance is an increase in inbreeding. Plants are often particularly susceptible to inbreeding, and as a result, they have evolved many inbreeding avoidance mechanisms. Using a simulation, I determined which mechanisms are more successful at preventing inbreeding associated with isolation-by-distance.