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Keywords:

  • AFLP;
  • below-ground growth;
  • clonal plants;
  • environmental effects;
  • spatial population genetic structure

Abstract

Paris quadrifolia (herb Paris) is a long-lived, clonal woodland herb that shows strong differences in local population size and shoot density along an environmental gradient of soil and light conditions. This environmentally based structuring may be mediated by differences in clonal growth and seedling recruitment through sexual reproduction. To study the interrelationship between environmental conditions and spatial patterns of clonal growth, the spatial genetic structure of four P. quadrifolia populations growing in strongly contrasting sites was determined. In the first place, plant excavations were performed in order to (i) determine differences in below-ground growth of genets, (ii) investigate connectedness of ramets and (iii) determine total genet size. Although no differences in internode length were found among sites, clones in moist sites were much smaller (genets usually consisted of 1–3 interconnected shoots, most of them flowering) than genets in dry sites, which consisted of up to 15 interconnected shoots, the majority of which were vegetative. Further, amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers were used. Clonal diversity was higher in populations located in moist and productive ash–poplar forests compared to those found in drier and less productive mixed forest sites (G/N: 0.27 and 0.14 and Simpson's D: 0.84 and 0.75, respectively). Patterns of spatial population genetic structure under dry conditions revealed several large clones dominating the entire population, whereas in moist sites many small genets were observed. Nevertheless, strong spatial genetic structure of the genet population was observed. Our results clearly demonstrate that patterns of clonal diversity and growth form of P. quadrifolia differ among environments. Limited seedling recruitment and large clone sizes due to higher connectedness of ramets explain the low clonal diversity in dry sites. In moist sites, higher levels of clonal diversity and small clone sizes indicate repeated seedling recruitment, whereas strong spatial genetic structure suggests limited seed dispersal within populations.