Population genetic structure in Myrtus communis L. in a chronically fragmented landscape in the Mediterranean: can gene flow counteract habitat perturbation?


  • Editor
    M. Koornneef

R. G. Albaladejo, Departamento de Biología Vegetal y Ecología, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad de Sevilla, 41012 Seville, Spain.
E-mail: albaladejo@us.es


Ancient managed landscapes provide ideal opportunities to assess the consequences of habitat fragmentation on the patterns of genetic diversity and gene flow in long-lived plant species. Using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and allozyme markers, we quantified seed-mediated gene flow and population genetic diversity and structure in 14 populations of Myrtus communis (myrtle), a common endozoochorous shrub species of forest patches in lowland agricultural Mediterranean areas. Overall, allozyme diversity for myrtle was low (P95 = 25%; A = 1.411; He = 0.085) compared to other known populations, and a significant portion of populations (57%) had lower levels of allelic diversity and/or heterozygosity than expected at random, as shown by simulated resampling of the whole diversity of the landscape. We found significant correlations between allozyme variability and population size and patch isolation, but no significant inbreeding in any population. Genetic differentiation among populations for both allozyme and AFLP markers was significant (ΦST = 0.144 and ΦST = 0.142, respectively) but an isolation-by-distance pattern was not detected. Assignment tests on AFLP data indicated a high immigration rate in the populations (ca. 20–22%), likely through effective seed dispersal across the landscape by birds and mammals. Our results suggest that genetic isolation is not the automatic outcome of habitat destruction since substantial levels of seed-mediated gene flow are currently detectable. However, even moderate rates of gene flow seem insufficient in this long-lived species to counteract the genetic erosion and differentiation imposed by chronic habitat destruction.