Gharehaghaji M, Minor ES, Ashley MV, Abraham ST, Koenig WD (2017) Effects of landscape features on gene flow of valley oaks (Quercus lobata). Plant Ecology 218(4):487-499.
Landscape features affect habitat connectivity and patterns of gene flow and hence influence genetic structure among populations. We studied valley oak (Quercus lobata), a threatened species of California (USA) savannas and oak woodlands, with a distribution forming a ring around the Central Valley grasslands. Our main goal was to determine the role of topography and land cover on patterns of gene flow and to test whether elevation or land cover forms stronger barriers to gene flow among valley oak populations. We sampled valley oaks in 12 populations across the range of this species, genotyped each tree at eight nuclear microsatellite loci, and created a series of resistance surfaces by assigning different resistance values to land cover type and elevation. We also estimated recent migration rates and evaluated them with regard to landscape features. There was a significant but weak relationship between Euclidian distance and genetic distance. There was no relationship between genetic distances and land cover, but a significant relationship between genetic distances and elevation resistance. We conclude that gene flow is restricted by high elevations in the northern part of the valley oak range and by high elevations and the Central Valley further south. Migration rate analysis indicated some gene flow occurring east–west but we suggest that the high connectivity in the northern Central Valley is facilitating the formation of these links. We predict that southern populations may become more differentiated in the future through genetic isolation and local adaptation taking place in the face of climate change.