• Albinos;
  • amplified fragment length polymorphism;
  • mixotrophy;
  • mycoheterotrophy;
  • Neottieae;
  • photosynthesis;
  • spatial repartition


Several green orchids of the Neottieae tribe acquire organic carbon both from their mycorrhizal fungi and from photosynthesis. This strategy may represent an intermediate evolutionary step towards mycoheterotrophy of some non-photosynthetic (albino) orchids. Mixed populations of green and albino individuals possibly represent a transient evolutionary stage offering opportunities to understand the evolution of mycoheterotrophy. In order to understand the emergence of albinos, we investigated patterns of spatial and genetic relationships among green and albino individuals in three mixed populations of Cephalanthera damasonium and one of C. longifolia using spatial repartition and Amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers. Two of these populations were monitored over two consecutive flowering seasons. In spatial repartition analyses, albino individuals did not aggregate more than green individuals. Genetic analyses revealed that, in all sampled populations, albino individuals did not represent a unique lineage, and that albinos were often closer related to green individuals than to other albinos from the same population. Genetic and spatial comparison of genets from the 2-year monitoring revealed that: (i) albinos had lower survival than green individuals; (ii) accordingly, albinos detected in the first year did not correspond to the those sampled in the second year; and (iii) with one possible exception, all examined albinos did not belong to any green genet from the same and/or from the previous year, and vice versa. Our results support a scenario of repeated insurgence of the albino phenotypes within the populations, but unsuccessful transition between the two contrasting phenotypes. Future studies should try to unravel the genetic and ecological basis of the two phenotypes.