Geographic Distance Affects Dispersal of the Patchy Distributed Greater Long-Tailed Hamster (<i>Tscherskia triton</i>)

<div><p>Dispersal is a fundamental process in ecology influencing the genetic structure and the viability of populations. Understanding how variable factors influence the dispersal of the population is becoming an important question in animal ecology. To date, geographic distance and geographic barriers are often considered as main factors impacting dispersal, but their effects are variable depending on different conditions. In general, geographic barriers affect more significantly than geographic distance on dispersal. In rapidly expanding populations, however, geographic barriers have less effect on dispersal than geographic distance. The effects of both geographic distance and geographic barriers in low-density populations with patchy distributions are poorly understood. By using a panel of 10 microsatellite loci we investigated the genetic structure of three patchy-distributed populations of the Greater long-tailed hamster (<i>Tscherskia triton</i>) from Raoyang, Guan and Shunyi counties of the North China Plain. The results showed that (i) high genetic diversity and differentiation exist in three geographic populations with patchy distributions; (ii) gene flow occurs among these three populations with physical barriers of Beijing city and Hutuo River, which potentially restricted the dispersal of the animal; (iii) the gene flow is negatively correlated with the geographic distance, while the genetic distance shows the positive correlation. Our results suggest that the effect of the physical barriers is conditional-dependent, including barrier capacity or individual potentially dispersal ability. Geographic distance also acts as an important factor affecting dispersal for the patchy distributed geographic populations. So, gene flow is effective, even at relatively long distances, in balancing the effect of geographic barrier in this study.</p></div>