Partitioning nuclear and chloroplast variation at multiple spatial scales in the neotropical epiphytic orchid, Laelia rubescens


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


Insights into processes that lead to the distribution of genetic variation within plant species require recognition of the importance of both pollen and seed movement. Here we investigate the contributions of pollen and seed movement to overall gene flow in the Central American epiphytic orchid, Laelia rubescens. Genetic diversity and structure were examined at multiple spatial scales in the tropical dry forest of Costa Rica using nuclear (allozymes) and chloroplast restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) markers, which were found to be diverse (allozymes, P = 73.3%; HE = 0.174; cpDNA, HE = 0.741). Nuclear genetic structure (FSTn) was low at every spatial scale (0.005–0.091). Chloroplast markers displayed more structure (0.073–0.254) but relatively similar patterns. Neither genome displayed significant isolation-by-distance. Pollen and seed dispersal rates did not differ significantly from one another (mp/ms = 1.40) at the broadest geographical scale, among sites throughout Costa Rica. However, relative contributions of pollen and seeds to gene flow were scale-dependent, with different mechanisms determining the dominant mode of gene flow at different spatial scales. Much seed dispersal is highly localized within the maternal population, while some seeds enter the air column and are dispersed over considerable distances. At the intermediate scale (10s to 100s of metres) pollinators are responsible for substantial pollen flow. This species appears capable of distributing its genes across the anthropogenically altered landscape that now characterizes its Costa Rican dry forest habitat.