Sources and implications of genetic diversity in agamic complexes are still under debate. Population studies (amplified fragment length polymorphisms, microsatellites) and karyological methods (Feulgen DNA image densitometry and flow cytometry) were employed for characterization of genetic diversity and ploidy levels of 10 populations of Ranunculus carpaticola in central Slovakia. Whereas two diploid populations showed high levels of genetic diversity, as expected for sexual reproduction, eight populations are hexaploid and harbour lower degrees of genotypic variation, but maintain high levels of heterozygosity at many loci, as is typical for apomicts. Polyploid populations consist either of a single AFLP genotype or of one dominant and a few deviating genotypes. genotype/genodive and character incompatibility analyses suggest that genotypic variation within apomictic populations is caused by mutations, but in one population probably also by recombination. This local facultative sexuality may have a great impact on regional genotypic diversity. Two microsatellite loci discriminated genotypes separated by the accumulation of few mutations (‘clone mates’) within each AFLP clone. Genetic diversity is partitioned mainly among apomictic populations and is not geographically structured, which may be due to facultative sexuality and/or multiple colonizations of sites by different clones. Habitat differentiation and a tendency to inhabit artificial meadows is more pronounced in apomictic than in sexual populations. We hypothesize that maintenance of genetic diversity and superior colonizing abilities of apomicts in temporally and spatially heterogeneous environments are important for their distributional success.
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