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WIREs Water
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Refining and defining riverscape genetics: How rivers influence population genetic structure

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Traditional analysis in population genetics evaluates differences among groups of individuals and, in some cases, considers the effects of distance or potential barriers to gene flow. Genetic variation of organisms in complex landscapes, seascapes, or riverine systems, however, may be shaped by many forces. Recent research has linked habitat heterogeneity and landscape or seascape configuration to genetic structure by integrating methods from landscape ecology, population genetics, and spatial statistics in approaches known as landscape or seascape genetics. However, functional differences between terrestrial or seascapes systems in comparison to riverscape topography (i.e., movement pathways for aquatic obligate species are constrained to river channels) make translating these approaches into freshwater analyses problematic. Studies that may be described as riverscape genetics (RG) have linked temperature, stream gradient, and confluences to genetic variability. Lack of consistency in methodology, however, has made comparisons across species and scales difficult. We provide a perspective on how RG could be used to provide a more comprehensive conceptual and applied understanding of connectivity and dispersal in freshwater systems. We describe four thematic areas of study representing current and future research opportunities and describe a basic workflow for conducting RG analysis. Although numerous methodological challenges remain, a RG approach can enhance our understanding of habitat heterogeneity in shaping gene flow and spatial genetic structure. These characteristics of populations are critical components for interpreting demographic and evolutionary consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation. WIREs Water 2018, 5:e1269. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1269

This article is categorized under:

  • Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems
  • Water and Life > Methods
  • Science of Water > Hydrological Processes
A hypothetical watershed that includes a forest, dendritic river network, and land that has been developed for industry, agriculture, and urban use. Sampling locations are represented by black circles
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A diagram of genetic relationships among populations for (a) a mobile organism, and (b) an organism with limited mobility. Differences in node size reflect genetic variation within a population, while edges connecting nodes reflect between population genetic variation
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The hypothetical watershed presented in Figure has been transformed into a raster image. The grid cells are weighted to reflect the costs of travel for a terrestrial organism (a) and a freshwater organism (b)
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Water and Life > Nature of Freshwater Ecosystems
Water and Life > Methods
Science of Water > Hydrological Processes

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