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Discovery of a large clonal patch of a social amoeba: implications for social evolution


Owen Gilbert, Fax: (713) 348-5232; E-mail:


Studies of genetic population structures of clonally reproducing macro-organisms have revealed large areas where only one clone is found. These areas, referred to as clonal patches, have not been shown to occur in free-living microbes until now. In free-living microbes, high genetic diversity at local scales is usually maintained by high rates of dispersal. We report, however, a highly dense, 12-m clonal patch of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum in a cattle pasture located in a Texas Gulf Coast prairie. We confirm the presence of only one clone by the analysis of 65 samples and amplification of 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci. Samplings of additional cattle pastures nearby showed higher clonal diversity, but with a density of D. discoideum isolates lower than in the clonal patch. These findings show that high rates of microbial dispersal do not always produce genetic diversity at local scales, contrary to the findings of previous studies. The existence of clonal patches may be particularly important for microbial social evolution.