Inferring the spatial expansion dynamics of invading species from molecular data is notoriously difficult due to the complexity of the processes involved. For these demographic scenarios, genetic data obtained from highly variable markers may be profitably combined with specific sampling schemes and information from other sources using a Bayesian approach. The geographic range of the introduced toad Bufo marinus is still expanding in eastern and northern Australia, in each case from isolates established around 1960. A large amount of demographic and historical information is available on both expansion areas. In each area, samples were collected along a transect representing populations of different ages and genotyped at 10 microsatellite loci. Five demographic models of expansion, differing in the dispersal pattern for migrants and founders and in the number of founders, were considered. Because the demographic history is complex, we used an approximate Bayesian method, based on a rejection-regression algorithm, to formally test the relative likelihoods of the five models of expansion and to infer demographic parameters. A stepwise migration-foundation model with founder events was statistically better supported than other four models in both expansion areas. Posterior distributions supported different dynamics of expansion in the studied areas. Populations in the eastern expansion area have a lower stable effective population size and have been founded by a smaller number of individuals than those in the northern expansion area. Once demographically stabilized, populations exchange a substantial number of effective migrants per generation in both expansion areas, and such exchanges are larger in northern than in eastern Australia. The effective number of migrants appears to be considerably lower than that of founders in both expansion areas. We found our inferences to be relatively robust to various assumptions on marker, demographic, and historical features. The method presented here is the only robust, model-based method available so far, which allows inferring complex population dynamics over a short time scale. It also provides the basis for investigating the interplay between population dynamics, drift, and selection in invasive species.
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Vol. 58 • No. 9