We have studied mitochondrial DNA variation in a local population of the leaf beetle species Gonioctena olivacea, to check whether its apparent low dispersal behaviour affects its pattern of genetic variation at a small geographical scale. We have sampled 10 populations of G. olivacea within a rectangle of 5 x 2 km in the Belgian Ardennes, as well as five populations located approximately along a straight line of 30 km and separated by distances of 3-12 km. For each sampled individual (8-19 per population), a fragment of the mtDNA control region was polymerase chain reaction-amplified and sequenced. Sequence data were analysed to test whether significant genetic differentiation could be detected among populations separated by such relatively short distances. The reconstructed genealogy of the mitochondrial haplotypes was also used to investigate the demographic history of these populations. Computer simulations of the evolution of populations were conducted to assess the minimum amount of gene flow that is necessary to explain the observed pattern of variation in the samples. Results show that migration among populations included in the rectangle of 5 x 2 km is substantial, and probably involves the occurrence of dispersal flights. This appears difficult to reconcile with the results of a previous ecological field study that concluded that most of this species dispersal occurs by walking. While sufficient migration to homogenize genetic diversity occurs among populations separated by distances of a few hundred metres to a few kilometres, distances greater than 5 km results in contrast in strong differentiation among populations, suggesting that migration is drastically reduced on such distances. Finally, the results of coalescent simulations suggest that the star-like genealogy inferred from the mtDNA sequence data is fully compatible with a past demographic expansion. However, a metapopulation structure alone (without the need to invoke a population expansion event) cannot be dismissed as the cause of this star shape.
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