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Linking seed dispersal and genetic structure of trees: a biogeographical approach


*Nina Farwig, Department of Ecology – Conservation Ecology, Faculty of Biology, Philipps University of Marburg, Karl-von-Frisch Str. 8, D-35043 Marburg, Germany. E-mail:


Aim  Natural and human-induced differences in frugivore assemblages can influence the seed dispersal distances of trees. An important issue in seed dispersal systems is to understand whether differences in seed dispersal distances also affect the genetic structure of mature trees. One possible approach to test for a relationship between seed dispersal and the genetic structure of mature trees is to compare the genetic structure of two closely related tree species between two biogeographical regions that differ in frugivore assemblages and seed dispersal distances. Previous studies on two Commiphora species revealed that Commiphora guillauminii in Madagascar has a much lower seed dispersal distance than Commiphora harveyi in South Africa. We tested whether the lower seed dispersal distance might have caused decreased gene flow, resulting in a stronger genetic structure in Madagascar than in South Africa.

Location  Madagascar and South Africa.

Methods  Using amplified fragment length polymorphism markers we investigated the genetic structure of 134 trees in Madagascar and 158 trees in South Africa at a local and a regional spatial scale.

Results  In concordance with our hypothesis, kinship analysis suggests that gene flow was restricted mostly to 3 km in Madagascar and to 30 km in South Africa. At the local spatial scale, the genetic differentiation among groups of trees within sample sites was marginally significantly higher in Madagascar (FST = 0.069) than in South Africa (FST = 0.021). However, at a regional spatial scale genetic differentiation was lower in Madagascar (FST = 0.053) than in South Africa (FST = 0.163).

Main conclusions  Our results show that lower seed dispersal distances of trees were linked to higher genetic differentiation of trees only at a local spatial scale. This suggests that seed dispersal affects the genetic population structure of trees at a local, but not at a regional, spatial scale.

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