Genetic drift during the spread phase of a biological invasion.
Recent theoretical and experimental models have revealed the role played by evolution during species spread, and in particular have questioned the influence of genetic drift at range edges. By investigating the spread of an aquatic invader in patchy habitats, we quantified genetic drift and explored its consequences for genetic diversity and fitness. We examined the interplay of gene flow and genetic drift in 36 populations of the red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, in a relatively recently invaded wetland area (30 years, Brière, northwest France). Despite the small spatial scale of our study (15 km2), populations were highly structured according to the strong barrier of land surfaces and revealed a clear pattern of colonization through watercourses. Isolated populations exhibited small effective sizes and low dispersal rates that depended on water connectivity, suggesting that genetic drift dominated in the evolution of allele frequencies in these populations. We also observed a significant decrease in the genetic diversity of isolated populations over only a 2-year period, but failed to demonstrate an associated fitness cost using fluctuating asymmetry. This study documents the possible strong influence of genetic drift during the spread of a species, and such findings provide critical insights into the current context of profound rearrangements in species distributions due to global change.