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Population genetic divergence corresponds with species-level biodiversity patterns in the large genus Begonia


M. Hughes, Fax: 0131 248 2901; E-mail:


Begonia is one of the largest angiosperm genera, containing over 1500 species. Some aspects of the distribution of biodiversity in the genus, such as the geographical restrictions of monophyletic groups, the rarity and morphological variability of widespread species, and a preponderance of narrow endemics, suggest that restricted gene flow may have been a factor in the formation of so many species. In order to investigate whether this inference based on large-scale patterns is supported by data at the population level, we examined the distribution of genetic variation within Begonia sutherlandii in the indigenous forests of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, using microsatellite markers. Despite the species being predominantly outbreeding, we found high and significant levels of population structure (standardizedinline image = 0.896). Even within individual populations, there was evidence for clear differentiation of subpopulations. There is thus congruence in evolutionary patterns ranging from interspecific phylogeny, the distribution of individual species, to the levels of population differentiation. Despite this species-rich genus showing a pan-tropical distribution, these combined observations suggest that differentiation occurs over very local scales. Although strongly selected allelic variants can maintain species cohesion with only low levels of gene flow, we hypothesize that in Begonia, gene flow levels are often so low, that divergence in allopatry is likely to be a frequent occurrence, and the lack of widespread species may in part be attributable to a lack of a mechanism for holding them together.