Long-distance dispersal maximizes evolutionary potential during rapid geographic range expansion

Cécile Berthouly-Salazar, Cang Hui, Tim M. Blackburn, Coline Gaboriaud, Berndt J. Van Rensburg, Bettine Jansen Van Vuuren, Johannes J. Le Roux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Conventional wisdom predicts that sequential founder events will cause genetic diversity to erode in species with expanding geographic ranges, limiting evolutionary potential at the range margin. Here, we show that invasive European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in South Africa preserve genetic diversity during range expansion, possibly as a result of frequent long-distance dispersal events. We further show that unfavourable environmental conditions trigger enhanced dispersal, as indicated by signatures of selection detected across the expanding range. This brings genetic variation to the expansion front, counterbalancing the cumulative effects of sequential founding events and optimizing standing genetic diversity and thus evolutionary potential at range margins during spread. Therefore, dispersal strategies should be highlighted as key determinants of the ecological and evolutionary performances of species in novel environments and in response to global environmental change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5793-5804
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


  • genetic diversity
  • invasion
  • long-distance dispersal
  • range expansion
  • selection signature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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