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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Big mountains but small barriers: Population genetic structure of the Chinese wood frog (Rana chensinensis) in the Tsinling and Daba Mountain region of northern China

Aibin Zhan1, Cheng Li2 and Jinzhong Fu1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada

2 Chengdu Institute of Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chengdu, 410 061, PR China

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BMC Genetics 2009, 10:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-10-17

Published: 9 April 2009

Abstract

Background

Amphibians in general are poor dispersers and highly philopatric, and landscape features often have important impacts on their population genetic structure and dispersal patterns. Numerous studies have suggested that genetic differentiation among amphibian populations are particularly pronounced for populations separated by mountain ridges. The Tsinling Mountain range of northern China is a major mountain chain that forms the boundary between the Oriental and Palearctic zoogeographic realms. We studied the population structure of the Chinese wood frog (Rana chensinensis) to test whether the Tsinling Mountains and the nearby Daba Mountains impose major barriers to gene flow.

Results

Using 13 polymorphic microsatellite DNA loci, 523 individuals from 12 breeding sites with geographical distances ranging from 2.6 to 422.8 kilometers were examined. Substantial genetic diversity was detected at all sites with an average of 25.5 alleles per locus and an expected heterozygosity ranging from 0.504 to 0.855, and two peripheral populations revealed significantly lower genetic diversity than the central populations. In addition, the genetic differentiation among the central populations was statistically significant, with pairwise FST values ranging from 0.0175 to 0.1625 with an average of 0.0878. Furthermore, hierarchical AMOVA analysis attributed most genetic variation to the within-population component, and the between-population variation can largely be explained by isolation-by-distance. None of the putative barriers detected from genetic data coincided with the location of the Tsinling Mountains.

Conclusion

The Tsinling and Daba Mountains revealed no significant impact on the population genetic structure of R. chensinensis. High population connectivity and extensive juvenile dispersal may account for the significant, but moderate differentiation between populations. Chinese wood frogs are able to use streams as breeding sites at high elevations, which may significantly contribute to the diminishing barrier effect of mountain ridges. Additionally, a significant decrease in genetic diversity in the peripheral populations supports Mayr's central-peripheral population hypothesis.