• Hibiscus pernambucensis;
  • Hibiscus tiliaceus;
  • microsatellites;
  • sea drift;
  • seed dispersal;
  • pantropical


The genetic differentiation and structure of Hibiscus tiliaceus, a pantropical plant with sea-drifted seeds, and four allied species were studied using six microsatellite markers. A low level of genetic differentiation was observed among H. tiliaceus populations in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, similar to the results of a previous chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) study. Frequent gene flow by long-distance seed dispersal is responsible for species integration of H. tiliaceus in the wide distribution range. On the other hand, highly differentiated populations of H. tiliaceus were detected in West Africa, as well as of Hibiscus pernambucensis in southern Brazil. In the former populations, the African continent may be a geographical barrier that prevents gene flow by sea-drifted seeds. In the latter populations, although there are no known land barriers, the bifurcating South Equatorial Current at the north-eastern horn of Brazil can be a potential barrier to gene flow and may promote the genetic differentiation of these populations. Our results also suggest clear species segregation between H. tiliaceus and H. pernambucensis, which confirms the introgression scenario between these two species that was suggested by a previous cpDNA study. Our results also provide good evidence for recent transatlantic long-distance seed dispersal by sea current. Despite the distinct geographical structure observed in the cpDNA haplotypes, a low level of genetic differentiation was found between Pacific and Atlantic populations of H. pernambucensis, which could be caused by transisthmian gene flow.