In limited previous studies of the Ascomycete fungus Gibberella zeae in North America, the populations examined were genetically and phenotypically diverse and could be viewed as subsamples of a larger population. Our objective in this study was to test the hypothesis that a homogeneous, randomly mating population of G. zeae is contiguous throughout the central and eastern United States across a span of several years. We analysed presence/absence alleles based on amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) at 30 loci, 24 of which are defined genetically on a linkage map of G. zeae, from > 500 isolates in eight field populations from seven states collected during the 1998, 1999 and 2000 cropping seasons. All these strains had AFLP profiles similar to those of standard isolates of G. zeae phylogenetic lineage 7. All the populations are genetically similar, have high genotypic diversity and little or no detectable genetic disequilibrium, and show evidence of extensive interpopulation genetic exchange. Allele frequencies in some of the populations examined are not statistically different from one another, but others are. Thus, the populations examined are not mere subsamples from a single, large, randomly mating population. Geographic distance and genetic distance between populations are correlated significantly. The observed differences are relatively small, however, indicating that while genetic isolation by distance may occur, genetic exchange has occurred at a relatively high frequency among US populations of G. zeae. We think that these differences reflect the time required for the alleles to diffuse across the distances that separate them, because relatively little linkage disequilibrium is detected either in the population as a whole or in any of the individual subpopulations.
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