• adaptive radiation;
  • bromeliad;
  • gene flow;
  • inselberg;
  • microsatellites;
  • species cohesion


Isolated granitic rock outcrops or ‘inselbergs’ may provide a window into the molecular ecology and genetics of continental radiations under simplified conditions, in analogy to the use of oceanic islands in studies of species radiations. Patterns of variability and gene flow in inselberg species have never been thoroughly evaluated in comparison to related taxa with more continuous distribution ranges, or to other species in the same kingdom in general. We use nuclear microsatellites to study population differentiation and gene flow in two diploid, perennial plants adapted to high-altitude neotropical inselbergs, Alcantarea imperialis and Alcantarea geniculata (Bromeliaceae). Population differentiation is pronounced in both taxa, especially in A. imperialis. Gene flow in this species is considerably lower than expected from the literature on plants in general and Bromeliaceae in particular, and too low to prevent differentiation due to drift (Nem < 1), unless selection coefficients/effect sizes of favourable alleles are great enough to maintain species cohesion. Low gene flow in A. imperialis indicates that the ability of pollinating bats to promote gene exchange between inselbergs is smaller than previously assumed. Population subdivision in one inselberg population of A. imperialis appears to be associated with the presence of two colour morphs that differ in the coloration of rosettes and bracts. Our results indicate a high potential for inselbergs as venues for studies of the molecular ecology and genetics of continental radiations, such as the one that gave rise to the extraordinary diversity of adaptive strategies and phenotypes seen in Bromeliaceae.