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Keywords:

  • allotetraploids;
  • conservation of endangered plants;
  • genetic diversity;
  • microsatellites;
  • population structure;
  • RAPD

Abstract

Borderea chouardii is a relictual and dioecious, strictly sexually reproducing, long-living geophyte of the Dioscoreaceae family. Previous biological and demographic studies have indicated the existence of a uniformly distributed panmictic population of this taxon at the southernmost Spanish pre-Pyrenean mountain ranges where it occurs in rather inaccessible crevices of a single limestone cliff. However, individuals of B. chouardii are spatially subdivided into two subpopulations located, respectively, on the upper and lower parts of the cliff, and vertically separated 150 m. Because of its extreme rarity, B. chouardii was the first Iberian taxon to have a specific conservation plan and has been included in several red lists under the category of critically endangered (CR). However, no previous attempts have been conducted to analyse the fine scale evolutionary mechanisms involved in its present microspatial distribution. Genetic diversity and population structure have been investigated through the analysis of neutral hypervariable markers such as simple sequence repeats (SSRs) and randomly amplified polymorphic DNAs (RAPDs) to unravel the impact of life history traits in the differentiation of the two subpopulations. Both types of molecular markers were unequivocal in distinguishing two genetically distinct groups of individuals corresponding to their spatial separation. However, SSRs detected a higher level of subpopulation differentiation (FST = 0.35, RST = 0.32) than RAPDs (FST = 0.21). SSR data indicated significant deviation from random dispersal of genes and genotypes between the two groups, suggesting that mating occurs mainly among individuals within subpopulations, thus, favouring the divergence between the two groups. This microevolutionary differentiation scenario might have been caused by a coupled effect of past genetic drift and reproductive isolation, as a result of strong glacial age bottlenecks and inefficient dispersal system of pollen and seeds, respectively. The identification of such genetic structure in this narrow endemic prompts a modification of the management strategies of its single extant population.