A simulation approach to studying the relationship between landscape features and social system on the genetic structure of a tamarin primate population



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Landscape genetics is an emerging field that seeks to understand how specific landscape features and microevolutionary processes such as gene flow, genetic drift, and selection interact to shape the amount and spatial distribution of genetic variation. This study explores, through agent based simulations, how the specific mating and social system of tamarin primates (genus Saguinus) influences population genetic structure and patterns of relatedness within and among groups of this primate species, which might affect the ability of landscape genetic studies to detect the effects of fragmentation on gene flow. I use a spatially-explicit agent-based population genetics simulation model (GENESYS) configured to reflect the particular social system of tamarin monkeys (i.e. small group size, limited numbers of breeders per group, frequent twin births, and short dispersal distances) to assess whether the isolation by distance model of genetic differentiation expected in an unfragmented landscape can be distinguished from the isolation by barrier model expected in a fragmented landscape. GENESYS allows a user to explore the effects of social structure and landscape features on the population genetic structure of social animals, such as primates. I simulated two different landscapes containing an otherwise equivalent population of tamarins. In the first setup I simulated a homogeneous landscape unconstrained by any barriers to gene flow, while for the second setup, a barrier to gene flow restricted dispersal from one half of the landscape to the other. I found that the particular mating system of tamarin results in the rapid genetic differentiation of its social groups and consequently its populations. Social groups in the continuous landscape indeed revealed an isolation by distance pattern, while social groups on the fragmented landscape yielded instead an isolation by barrier model, where the barrier rather than geographic distance per se influenced the spatial genetic structure of the population. The results from this study suggest that features of the tamarin social system influence population genetic structure, which could affect the ability of landscape genetic studies to detect the effects of fragmentation on gene flow. To more fully address that issue, future studies should focus on a range of different primate social systems.