Nonequilibrium conditions due to either allopatry followed by secondary contact or recent range expansion can confound measurements of gene flow among populations in previously glaciated regions. We determined the scale at which gene flow can be estimated among breeding aggregations of bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) at the northern limit of their range in Ontario, Canada, using seven highly polymorphic DNA microsatellite loci. We first identified breeding aggregations that likely share a common history, determined from the pattern of allelic richness, factorial correspondence analysis, and a previously published mtDNA phylogeography, and then tested for regional equilibrium by evaluating the association between pairwise FST and geographic distance. Regional breeding aggregations in eastern Ontario separated by <100 km were determined to be at or near equilibrium. High levels of gene flow were measured using traditional F-statistics and likelihood estimates of Nm. Similarly high levels of recent migration (past one to three generations) were estimated among the breeding aggregations using nonequilibrium methods. We also show that, in many cases, breeding aggregations separated by up to tens of kilometers are not genetically distinct enough to be considered separate genetic populations. These results have important implications both for the identification of independent “populations” and in assessing the effect of scale in detecting patterns of genetic equilibrium and gene flow.
Toe clippings were collected from frogs at breeding aggregations