Three-dimensional fine-scale genetic structure of the neotropical epiphytic orchid, Laelia rubescens


Dorset W. Trapnell. Fax: 1 706 542 1805; E-mail:


Epiphytic plants occupy three-dimensional space, which allows more individuals to be closely clustered spatially than is possible for populations occupying two dimensions. The unique characteristics of epiphytes can act in concert to influence the fine-scale genetic structure of their populations which can, in turn, influence mating patterns and other population phenomena. Three large populations of Laelia rubescens (Orchidaceae) in the Costa Rican seasonal dry forest were sampled at two levels of intensity to determine: (i) whether individual clusters contain more than one genotype, and (ii) the spatial distribution and fine-scale genetic structure of genotypes within populations. Samples were assayed for their multilocus allozyme genotypes and spatial autocorrelation analyses were performed. High levels of genetic diversity, high genotypic diversity and low among-population variation were found. In the larger clusters, multiple genets per cluster were common with discrete clusters containing up to nine genotypes. Spatial autocorrelation analyses indicated significant positive genetic structure at distances of ≤ 45 cm. This result is likely due to the formation of discrete clusters by vegetative reproduction, as well as the establishment of sexually derived progeny within and near maternal clusters.