Data from: Run to the hills: gene flow among mountain areas leads to low genetic differentiation in the Norwegian lemming
Lagerholm, Vendela K. et al. (2016), Data from: Run to the hills: gene flow among mountain areas leads to low genetic differentiation in the Norwegian lemming, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.kr966
The endemic Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus) is an icon for cyclic species, famous since the Middle Ages for its enormous population outbreaks and mass movements. Although the drivers behind this cyclicity have been intensively investigated, virtually nothing is known about the extent to which long-distance dispersal during population peaks actually lead to gene flow among mountain tundra areas. In this article, we use nine microsatellite markers to address this question and analyse range-wide genetic diversity and differentiation between Fennoscandian sub-regions. The results revealed a high genetic variation with a surprisingly weak population structure, comparable to that of much larger mammals. The differentiation was mainly characterized as a genetic cline across the species' entire distribution, and results from spatial autocorrelation analyses suggested that gene flow occurs with sufficiently high frequency to create a genetic patch size of 100 km. Further, we found that for the equivalent distances, the southern sub-regions were genetically more similar to each other than those in the north, which indicates that the prolonged periods of interrupted lemming cyclicity recorded in the northern parts of Fennoscandia have led to increased isolation and population differentiation. In summary, we propose that mass movements during peak years act as pulses of gene flow between mountain tundra areas, and that these help to maintain genetic variation and counteract differentiation over vast geographic distances.