Explaining functional connectivity among occupied habitats is crucial for understanding metapopulation dynamics and species ecology. Landscape genetics has primarily focused on elucidating how ecological features between observations influence gene flow. Functional connectivity, however, may be the result of both these between-site (landscape resistance) landscape characteristics and at-site (patch quality) landscape processes that can be captured using network based models. We test hypotheses of functional connectivity that include both between-site and at-site landscape processes in metapopulations of Columbia spotted frogs (Rana luteiventris) by employing a novel justification of gravity models for landscape genetics (eight microsatellite loci, 37 sites, n = 441). Primarily used in transportation and economic geography, gravity models are a unique approach as flow (e.g. gene flow) is explained as a function of three basic components: distance between sites, production/attraction (e.g. at-site landscape process) and resistance (e.g. between-site landscape process). The study system contains a network of nutrient poor high mountain lakes where we hypothesized a short growing season and complex topography between sites limit R. luteiventris gene flow. In addition, we hypothesized production of offspring is limited by breeding site characteristics such as the introduction of predatory fish and inherent site productivity. We found that R. luteiventris connectivity was negatively correlated with distance between sites, presence of predatory fish (at-site) and topographic complexity (between-site). Conversely, site productivity (as measured by heat load index, at-site) and growing season (as measured by frost-free period between-sites) were positively correlated with gene flow. The negative effect of predation and positive effect of site productivity, in concert with bottleneck tests, support the presence of source-sink dynamics. In conclusion, gravity models provide a powerful new modelling approach for examining a wide range of both basic and applied questions in landscape genetics.
Additional publication details
Landscape genetics of high mountain frog metapopulations