The study of biodiversity has received wide attention in recent decades. Biodiversity has been defined in various ways (Gaston and Spicer, 1998, Purvis and Hector 2000, and chapters in this volume). Discussion regarding its definitions is dynamic, with shifts between the more traditional emphasis on community structure to emphasis on the higher ecosystem level or the lower population levels (e.g., chapters in this volume, Poiani et al. 2000). One of the definitions, proposed in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity held in Rio de Janeiro (1992) is “the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” The within-species component of diversity is further defined as “the frequency and diversity of different genes and/or genomes . . .” (IUCN 1993) as estimated by the genetic and morphological diversity within species. While research and conservation efforts in the past century have focused mainly on the community level, they have recently been extended to include the within-species (Hanski 1989) and the ecosystem levels. The component comprising within-species genetic and morphological diversity is increasingly emphasized as an important element of biodiversity (UN Convention 1992). Recent studies suggest that patterns of genetic diversity significantly influence the viability and persistence of local populations (Frankham 1996, Lacy 1997, Riddle 1996, Vrijenhoek et al. 1985). Revealing geographical patterns of genetic diversity is highly relevant to conservation biology and especially to explicit decision-making procedures allowing systematic rather than opportunistic selection of populations and areas for in situ protection (Pressey et al. 1993). Therefore, studying spatial patterns in within-species diversity may be vital in defining and prioritizing conservation efforts (Brooks et al. 1992). Local populations of a species often differ in the ecological conditions experienced by their members (Brown 1984, Gaston 1990, Lawton et al. 1994). These factors potentially affect population characteristics, structure, and within-population genetic and morphological diversity (Brussard 1984, Lawton 1995, Parsons 1991). The spatial location of a population within a species range may be related to its patterns of diversity (Lesica and Allendorf 1995). Thus, detecting within-species diversity patterns across distributional ranges is important for our understanding of ecological and evolutionary (e.g., speciation) processes (Smith et al. 1997), and for the determination of conservation priorities (Kark 1999).
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