Global Patterns of Isolation by Distance Based on Genetic and Morphological Data

The isolation-by-distance model predicts that genetic similarity between populations will decrease exponentially as the geographic distance between them increases, because of the limiting effect of geographic distance on rates of gene flow. Many studies of human populations have applied the isolation-by-distance model to genetic variation between local populations in a limited geographic area, but few have done so on a global level, and these few used different models and analytical methods. I assess genetic variation between human populations across the world using data on red blood cell polymorphisms, microsatellite DNA markers, and craniometric traits. The isolation-by-distance model provides an excellent fit to average levels of genetic similarity within geographic distance classes for all three data sets, and the rate of distance decay is the same in all three. These results suggest that a common pattern of global gene flow mediated by geographic distance is detectable in diverse genetic and morphological data. An alternative explanation is that the correspondence between genetic similarity and geographic distance reflects the history of dispersal of the human species out of Africa.