Hot spots of genetic diversity descended from multiple Pleistocene refugia in an alpine ungulate


Aaron B. A. Shafer, Steeve D. Côté, and David W. Coltman 


Evolution 65(1):125–138; 2011


Species that inhabit naturally fragmented environments are expected to be spatially structured and exhibit reduced genetic diversity at the periphery of their range. Patterns of differentiation may also reflect historical processes such as recolonization from glacial refugia. We examined the relative importance of these factors in shaping the spatial patterns of genetic differentiation across the range of an alpine specialist, the North American mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus). Contrary to fossil evidence that suggests a single southern refugium, we detected evidence for additional refugia in northern British Columbia and the Alaskan coast using both mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA. A core area of elevated genetic diversity characterized both regions, and molecular dating suggested a recent Pleistocene split was followed by demographic expansion. Across their range, mountain goats were highly genetically structured and displayed the expected pattern of declining diversity toward the periphery. Gene flow was high within contiguous mountain ranges, but cross-assignments paradoxically suggest that long-distance contemporary dispersal movements are not uncommon. These results improve our understanding of how historical vicariance and contemporary fragmentation influence population differentiation, and have implications for conserving the adaptive potential of alpine populations and habitat.