Open Access Open Badges Research article

Bottlenecks drive temporal and spatial genetic changes in alpine caddisfly metapopulations

Lisa NS Shama123*, Karen B Kubow1, Jukka Jokela1 and Christopher T Robinson1

Author affiliations

1 Eawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, 8600 Dübendorf, Switzerland, and Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zürich, Switzerland

2 Leibniz-Institut for Marine Sciences IFM-GEOMAR, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany

3 Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Wadden Sea Station Sylt, 25992 List, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:278  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-278

Published: 27 September 2011



Extinction and re-colonisation of local populations is common in ephemeral habitats such as temporary streams. In most cases, such population turnover leads to reduced genetic diversity within populations and increased genetic differentiation among populations due to stochastic founder events, genetic drift, and bottlenecks associated with re-colonisation. Here, we examined the spatio-temporal genetic structure of 8 alpine caddisfly populations inhabiting permanent and temporary streams from four valleys in two regions of the Swiss Alps in years before and after a major stream drying event, the European heat wave in summer 2003.


We found that population turnover after 2003 led to a loss of allelic richness and gene diversity but not to significant changes in observed heterozygosity. Within all valleys, permanent and temporary streams in any given year were not differentiated, suggesting considerable gene flow and admixture between streams with differing hydroperiods. Large changes in allele frequencies after 2003 resulted in a substantial increase in genetic differentiation among valleys within one to two years (1-2 generations) driven primarily by drift and immigration. Signatures of genetic bottlenecks were detected in all 8 populations after 2003 using the M-ratio method, but in no populations when using a heterozygosity excess method, indicating differential sensitivity of bottleneck detection methods.


We conclude that genetic differentiation among A. uncatus populations changed markedly both temporally and spatially in response to the extreme climate event in 2003. Our results highlight the magnitude of temporal population genetic changes in response to extreme events. More specifically, our results show that extreme events can cause rapid genetic divergence in metapopulations. Further studies are needed to determine if recovery from this perturbation through gradual mixing of diverged populations by migration and gene flow leads to the pre-climate event state, or whether the observed changes represent a new genetic equilibrium.