Plant Ecology

, Volume 218, Issue 4, pp 487–499 | Cite as

Effects of landscape features on gene flow of valley oaks (Quercus lobata)

  • Maryam Gharehaghaji
  • Emily S. Minor
  • Mary V. Ashley
  • Saji T. Abraham
  • Walter D. Koenig


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.


Landscape resistance Landscape genetics Circuit theory Valley oak Topography Gene flow 



We thank Nina Savar, GIS instructor at UIC for her invaluable advice on spatial analyses and Marti Whittier for collecting samples for one site used in this study. Funding was provided by NSF grant DEB-0816691 to WDK. We are grateful to Matthew McCary and David Lowenstein, Elsa Anderson, Alexis Smith, and Megan Garfinkel of the Minor lab for feedback on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Environmental Science and PolicyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Med-Nephrology Research labUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Department of Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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