The influence of environment and life-history traits on the distribution of genes and individuals: a comparative study of 11 rainforest trees


Maurizio Rossetto, Fax: +61 29251 4403; E-mail:,


This study investigates patterns of genetic connectivity among 11 co-distributed tropical rainforest tree species from the genus Elaeocarpus across a biogeographic barrier, the Black Mountain Corridor (BMC) in the Australian Wet Tropics (AWT). We analysed a combination of allelic and flanking region sequence data from microsatellite markers, and evaluated the relative influence of environmental preferences and functional traits on genetic diversity and gene flow. The results indicate that only in three species geographic structuring of haplotype distribution reflects a north vs. south of the BMC pattern. Environmental factors linked with altitude were recognized as affecting genetic trends, but the selective processes operating on upland species appear to be associated with competitiveness and regeneration opportunities on poor soil types rather than climate variables alone. In contrast to previous observations within southeastern Australian rainforests, genetic differentiation in the AWT appears to be associated with small-fruited rather than large-fruited species, highlighting how external factors can influence the dispersal dimension. Overall, this study emphasizes the importance of considering functional and environmental factors when attempting generalizations on landscape-level patterns of genetic variation. Understanding how plant functional groups respond to environmental and climatic heterogeneity can help us predict responses to future change.