The extent of genetic variation and dispersal mechanisms were investigated over short distances of 1–100 m, and up to 3 km, by the random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) technique, for the moss Sarconeurum glaciale, at three locations on Ross Island, Antarctica. At Arrival Heights, genetic variation occurred within single colonies, and the relationships between clumps indicated that they were dispersed down small, meltwater drainage channels by water. The genetic similarities between the colonies from Arrival Heights and others from Scott Base and Crater Hill, a few km away, together with the prevailing wind direction and absence of this moss in the intervening snow-covered area, suggested longer-distance dispersal by wind. Overall, the Ross Island samples appeared to form a single, polymorphic population that was distinct from another population at Canada Glacier, 110 km distant. Somatic mutation, rather than immigration of genetically different propagules from elsewhere, appeared to be the most probable cause of genetic variability in these haploid, vegetatively reproducing Antarctic moss populations. Initiation of recolonization of S. glaciale across a dirt track at Arrival Heights was also investigated by RAPDs, to investigate how regrowth of mosses in disturbed areas occurred in the extreme environment of Antarctica.
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