Colonization genetics of an animal-dispersed plant (Vaccinium membranaceum) at Mount St Helens, Washington


Suann Yang, Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, 208 Mueller Laboratory, University Park, PA 16802 USA. Fax: 1 (814) 865 9131; E-mail:


Population founding and spatial spread may profoundly influence later population genetic structure, but their effects are difficult to quantify when population history is unknown. We examined the genetic effects of founder group formation in a recently founded population of the animal-dispersed Vaccinium membranaceum (black huckleberry) on new volcanic deposits at Mount St Helens (Washington, USA) 24 years post-eruption. Using amplified fragment length polymorphisms and assignment tests, we determined sources of the newly founded population and characterized genetic variation within new and source populations. Our analyses indicate that while founders were derived from many sources, about half originated from a small number of plants that survived the 1980 eruption in pockets of remnant soil embedded within primary successional areas. We found no evidence of a strong founder effect in the new population; indeed genetic diversity in the newly founded population tended to be higher than in some of the source regions. Similarly, formation of the new population did not increase among-population genetic variance, and there was no evidence of kin-structured dispersal in the new population. These results indicate that high gene flow among sources and long-distance dispersal were important processes shaping the genetic diversity in this young V. membranaceum population. Other species with similar dispersal abilities may also be able to colonize new habitats without significant reduction in genetic diversity or increase in differentiation among populations.