Dispersal ability and habitat requirements determine landscape-level genetic patterns in desert aquatic insects

Ivan C. Phillipsen, Emily H. Kirk, Michael T. Bogan, Meryl C. Mims, Julian D. Olden, David A. Lytle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Species occupying the same geographic range can exhibit remarkably different population structures across the landscape, ranging from highly diversified to panmictic. Given limitations on collecting population-level data for large numbers of species, ecologists seek to identify proximate organismal traits - such as dispersal ability, habitat preference and life history - that are strong predictors of realized population structure. We examined how dispersal ability and habitat structure affect the regional balance of gene flow and genetic drift within three aquatic insects that represent the range of dispersal abilities and habitat requirements observed in desert stream insect communities. For each species, we tested for linear relationships between genetic distances and geographic distances using Euclidean and landscape-based metrics of resistance. We found that the moderate-disperser Mesocapnia arizonensis (Plecoptera: Capniidae) has a strong isolation-by-distance pattern, suggesting migration-drift equilibrium. By contrast, population structure in the flightless Abedus herberti (Hemiptera: Belostomatidae) is influenced by genetic drift, while gene flow is the dominant force in the strong-flying Boreonectes aequinoctialis (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae). The best-fitting landscape model for M. arizonensis was based on Euclidean distance. Analyses also identified a strong spatial scale-dependence, where landscape genetic methods only performed well for species that were intermediate in dispersal ability. Our results highlight the fact that when either gene flow or genetic drift dominates in shaping population structure, no detectable relationship between genetic and geographic distances is expected at certain spatial scales. This study provides insight into how gene flow and drift interact at the regional scale for these insects as well as the organisms that share similar habitats and dispersal abilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-69
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Aquatic insects
  • Freshwater
  • Gene flow
  • Isolation by distance
  • Landscape genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


Dive into the research topics of 'Dispersal ability and habitat requirements determine landscape-level genetic patterns in desert aquatic insects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this