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Population structure in the endangered Mauna Loa silversword, Argyroxiphium kauense (Asteraceae), and its bearing on reintroduction


  • Present addresses: Department of Biology, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258, USA, §Laboratory of Molecular Systematics, National Museum of Natural History, MSC, MRC534, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C., 20560, USA.

E. Friar. Fax: 909 6267670;


Reintroduction of populations of endangered species is a challenging task, involving a number of environmental, demographic and genetic factors. Genetic parameters of interest include historical patterns of genetic structure and gene flow. Care must be taken during reintroduction to balance the contrasting risks of inbreeding and outbreeding depression. The Mauna Loa silversword, Argyroxiphium kauense, has experienced a severe decline in population size and distribution in the recent past. Currently, three populations with a total of fewer than 1000 individuals remain. We measured genetic variation within and among the remnant populations using seven microsatellite loci. We found significant genetic variation remaining within all populations, probably related to the recent nature of the population impact, the longevity of the plants, and their apparent self-incompatibility. We also found significant genetic differentiation among the populations, reinforcing previous observations of ecological and morphological differentiation. With respect to reintroduction, the results suggest that, in the absence of additional data to the contrary, inbreeding depression may not be a substantial risk as long as propagules for the founding of new populations are adequately sampled from within each source population before additional inbreeding takes place. The results further suggest that if mixing of propagules from different source populations is not required to increase within-population genetic variation in the reintroduced populations, it may best be avoided.