A comparison of individual-based genetic distance metrics for landscape genetics

A. J. Shirk, E. L. Landguth, S. A. Cushman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


A major aim of landscape genetics is to understand how landscapes resist gene flow and thereby influence population genetic structure. An empirical understanding of this process provides a wealth of information that can be used to guide conservation and management of species in fragmented landscapes and also to predict how landscape change may affect population viability. Statistical approaches to infer the true model among competing alternatives are based on the strength of the relationship between pairwise genetic distances and landscape distances among sampled individuals in a population. A variety of methods have been devised to quantify individual genetic distances, but no study has yet compared their relative performance when used for model selection in landscape genetics. In this study, we used population genetic simulations to assess the accuracy of 16 individual-based genetic distance metrics under varying sample sizes and degree of population genetic structure. We found most metrics performed well when sample size and genetic structure was high. However, it was much more challenging to infer the true model when sample size and genetic structure was low. Under these conditions, we found genetic distance metrics based on principal components analysis were the most accurate (although several other metrics performed similarly), but only when they were derived from multiple principal components axes (the optimal number varied depending on the degree of population genetic structure). Our results provide guidance for which genetic distance metrics maximize model selection accuracy and thereby better inform conservation and management decisions based upon landscape genetic analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1308-1317
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Ecology Resources
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • genetic distance
  • isolation by distance
  • isolation by resistance
  • landscape genetics
  • model selection
  • principal components analysis


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