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Population genetic consequences of extreme variation in sexual and clonal reproduction in an aquatic plant


C. G. Eckert. Fax: 613 5336617; E-mail:


Most plants combine sexual reproduction with asexual clonal reproduction in varying degrees, yet the genetic consequences of reproductive variation remain poorly understood. The aquatic plant Butomus umbellatus exhibits striking reproductive variation related to ploidy. Diploids produce abundant viable seed whereas triploids are sexually sterile. Diploids also produce hundreds of tiny clonal bulbils, whereas triploids exhibit only limited clonal multiplication through rhizome fragmentation. We investigated whether this marked difference in reproductive strategy influences the diversity of genotypes within populations and their movement between populations by performing two large-scale population surveys (n = 58 populations) and assaying genotypic variation using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPDs). Contrary to expectations, sexually fertile populations did not exhibit higher genotypic diversity than sterile populations. For each cytotype, we detected one very common and widespread genotype. This would only occur with a very low probability (< 10−7) under regular sexual recombination. Compatibility analysis also indicated that the pattern of genotypic variation largely conformed to that expected with predominant clonal reproduction. The potential for recombination in diploids is not realized, possibly because seeds are outcompeted by bulbils for safe sites during establishment. We also failed to find evidence for more extensive movement of fertile than sterile genotypes. Aside from the few widespread genotypes, most were restricted to single populations. Genotypes in fertile populations were very strongly differentiated from those in sterile populations, suggesting that new triploids have not arisen during the colonization of North America. The colonization of North America involves two distinct forms of B. umbellatus that, despite striking reproductive differences, exhibit largely clonal population genetic structures.

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