Termite alates are thought to be poor active flyers, and this should lead to considerable genetic differentiation on small spatial scales. However, using four microsatellite loci for the termite Macrotermes michaelseni we found low values of genetic differentiation (FST) across a spatial scale of even more than 50 km. Genetic differentiation between populations increased with spatial distance up to 50 km. Furthermore, up to this distance, the scatter around the linear regression of genetic differentiation versus spatial distance increased with spatial distance. This suggests that across such spatial distances gene flow and genetic drift are of about equal importance, and near equilibrium. Using a regional FST as well as the distance between populations with non-significant FST-values (up to 25 km), gene flow is sufficiently high so that populations may be regarded as panmictic on spatial scales of 25 to 50 km. The apparent contradiction between dispersal distances observed in the field and estimates of gene flow from genetic markers may be due to the masses of swarming alates. Assuming a leptokurtic distribution of dispersal distances, at least some alates are expected to travel considerable distances, most likely by passive drift. ¬© Birkh√§user Verlag, 2005.
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