Regional gene flow and population structure of the wind-dispersed plant species Hypochaeris radicata (Asteraceae) in an agricultural landscape


Carolin Mix, Fax: +31 24 3652134; E-mail:


Using microsatellites, we investigated population structure and gene flow of the short-lived, wind-dispersed plant species Hypochaeris radicata in a fragmented agricultural landscape where more than 99% of the nutrient-poor grasslands have disappeared over the last century. We sampled populations in the few remaining high density populations in conservation areas, as well as individuals that occurred, with lower densities, in linear landscape elements, at two spatial scales. In a re-inventory of the landscape, after 3 years, both extinctions and colonizations of populations were observed. Contrary to expectations, no differences in genetic diversity between high and low density populations were observed. Both types of populations had relatively high levels of diversity. Overall genetic differentiation (θ) was 0.04 and significantly different from zero (P < 0.01). A significant isolation-by-distance pattern was found when all populations were simultaneously analysed (r = 0.24, P = 0.013). Isolation by distance was (marginally) significant at the small scale (r = 0.32, P = 0.06), whereas nonsignificant at the large spatial scale (r = –0.05, P = 0.66). A maximization-of-explained-variance procedure resulted in a threshold distance of 3.5 km above which populations were effectively genetically isolated. An additional partial exclusion Bayesian-based assignment test showed that overall 32.3% of the individuals were assigned to their population of origin, 48% were assigned to another population in the area and 19.7% were not assigned. Together, these results suggest high levels of gene flow. Seed dispersal contributes to the observed gene flow up to several hundred metres, which is higher than previously modelled using aerodynamic models on seed dispersal of H. radicata. We discuss the consequences of these results for an evaluation of the probability of persistence of this species in the fragmented landscape.