Mating patterns and gene flow in the neotropical epiphytic orchid, Laelia rubescens


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


Understanding mating patterns and gene movement in plant populations occupying highly disturbed landscapes is essential for insights into their long-term survival. We used allozyme genetic markers to examine mating patterns and to directly measure pollen flow in the Central American epiphytic orchid, Laelia rubescens. Study populations were located in disturbed, seasonally dry tropical forest in Costa Rica. Every flowering individual within 15 populations and 12–18 seedlings from each maternal individual were genotyped over two reproductive seasons. Strict correlated mating by orchids produces full-sib progeny arrays from which the multilocus diploid genotype of the pollen parent can be inferred. These paternity analyses produced detailed quantitative estimates of pollen movement within and among populations of this species. Although our data illustrate that mating patterns vary spatially and temporally among trees, among pastures, and between years, overall patterns were surprisingly consistent. Thirty-four per cent of the capsules produced in both years resulted from gene flow events. Where pollen parents were identified, pollen moved mean distances of 279 m and 519 m in 1999 and 2000 respectively and a maximum documented distance of 1034 m. A substantially larger floral display in 2000 corresponded to a marked increase in pollen dispersal distances. Smaller populations, which more closely resembled those in undisturbed forest, had higher rates of gene flow than the large populations that characterize disturbed sites. We predict the occurrence of greater gene flow between low-density populations occupying undisturbed habitats.