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Extremely low levels of genetic diversity in the terrestrial orchid Epipactis thunbergii (Orchidaceae) in South Korea: implications for conservation




Levels of allozyme variation, population genetic structure, and fine-scale genetic structure (FSGS) of the rare, both sexually and clonally reproducing terrestrial orchid Epipactis thunbergii were examined for eight (N = 734) populations in a 20 × 20-km area in South Korea. Twenty-three putative allozyme loci resolved from 15 enzyme systems were used. Extremely low levels of allozyme variation were found within populations: the mean frequency of polymorphic loci was 3.8% [isocitrate dehydrogenase (Idh-2) with two alleles was polymorphic across populations], the mean number of alleles per locus was 1.04, and the mean expected heterozygosity was 0.013. The overall fixation index was not significantly different from zero (FIS = 0.069), although the species is self-compatible. However, a significantly high degree of population differentiation was found between populations at Idh-2 (FST = 0.388) in the studied area. Furthermore, spatial autocorrelation analyses revealed a significant FSGS (up to 3 m) within populations. These observations suggest that the main explanatory factors for the extremely low levels of genetic diversity and the shaping of the population genetic structure of E. thunbergii are genetic drift as a result of a small effective population size, a restricted gene flow, and the isolation of populations. Considering the current genetic structure of E. thunbergii, three guidelines are suggested for the development of conservation strategies for the species in South Korea: (1) protection of habitats of standing populations; (2) prohibition by law of any collection of E. thunbergii; and (3) protection of nearby pollinator populations, given the fact that fruit set in natural habitats is very low. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 155, 161–169.