Using highly polymorphic microsatellite markers, we assessed clonal structure and paternity in a population of the bryophyte species Polytrichum formosum. Identical multilocus genotypes of individual shoots were almost never observed in spatially separated cushions, but were found to be highly clustered within moss cushions. Therefore, asexual reproduction through dispersal of gametophyte fragments is not very important in P. formosum. However, asexual reproduction on a very localized scale through vegetative growth of genets (branching of gametophytes via clonal growth of rhizomes) is very extensive. The patchy spatial distribution of genets and the absence of intermingling among genets suggest that this species follows a ‘phalanx’ clonal growth strategy. Vegetative proliferation of genets will increase their size, and, consequently, will have considerable fitness consequences for individuals in terms of increased genet longevity and reproductive output. Although paternity analysis of sporophytes confirmed male genet size, i.e. gamete production, to be an important determinant of male reproductive fitness, it also showed that the spatial distance to female genets is the predominant factor that governs male reproductive success. Moreover, we showed that male gamete dispersal distances in P. formosum are much further than generally assumed, and are in the order of metres rather than centimetres. Combining the findings, we conclude that the high genotypic diversity observed for this facultatively clonal species is most likely explained by a preponderance of sexual reproduction over clonal reproduction.
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