Comparative analyses of spatial genetic structure (SGS) among species, populations, or cohorts give insight into the genetic consequences of seed dispersal in plants. We analysed SGS of a weedy tree in populations with known and unknown recruitment histories to first establish patterns in populations with single vs. multiple founders, and then to infer possible recruitment scenarios in populations with unknown histories. We analysed SGS in six populations of the colonizing tree Albizia julibrissin Durazz. (Fabaceae) in Athens, Georgia. Study sites included two large populations with multiple, known founders, two small populations with a single, known founder, and two large populations with unknown recruitment histories. Eleven allozyme loci were used to genotype 1385 individuals. Insights about the effects of colonization history from the SGS analyses were obtained from correlograms and Sp statistics. Distinct differences in patterns of SGS were identified between populations with multiple founders vs. a single founder. We observed significant, positive SGS, which decayed with increasing distance in the populations with multiple colonists, but little to no SGS in populations founded by one colonist. Because relatedness among individuals is estimated relative to a local reference population, which usually consists of those individuals sampled in the study population, SGS in populations with high background relatedness, such as those with a single founder, may be obscured. We performed additional analyses using a regional reference population and, in populations with a single founder, detected significant, positive SGS at all distances, indicating that these populations consist of highly related descendants and receive little seed immigration. Subsequent analyses of SGS in size cohorts in the four large study populations showed significant SGS in both juveniles and adults, probably because of a relative lack of intraspecific demographic thinning. SGS in populations of this colonizing tree is pronounced and persistent and is determined by the number and relatedness of founding individuals and adjacent seed sources. Patterns of SGS in populations with known histories may be used to indirectly infer possible colonization scenarios for populations where it is unknown.
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