Heart-of-palm (Euterpe edulis Mart.) is a wild palm with a wide distribution throughout the Atlantic Rainforest. Populations of E. edulis represent important renewable natural resources but are currently under threat from predatory exploitation. Furthermore, because the species is indigenous to the Atlantic Rainforest, which is located in the most economically developed and populated region of Brazil, social and economic pressures have devastated heart-of-palm forests. In order to estimate the partitioning of genetic variation of endangered E. edulis populations, 429 AFLP markers were used to analyse 150 plants representing 11 populations of the species distribution range. Analysis of the genetic structure of populations carried out using analysis of molecular variance (amova) revealed moderate genetic variation within populations (57.4%). Genetic differentiation between populations (FST = 0.426) was positively correlated with geographical distance. These results could be explained by the historical fragmentation of the Atlantic coastal region, together with the life cycle and mating system. The data obtained in this work should have important implications for conservation and future breeding programmes of E. edulis.
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