Molecular Variation in Isolated Plant Populations



Abstract Isolated plant populations face a series of demographic and genetic challenges. They potentially may suffer from a loss of allelic and genotypic diversity or from inbreeding depression. The demographic stability associated with migration between components of a metapopulation is lost as fragmentation increasingly isolates populations. Such isolated populations are then increasingly subject to demographic stocasticity and to more frequent population bottlenecks. Some plant species clearly endure this challenge better than others. In studies of native plant species whose populations have long endured isolation, population numbers very often appear stable and populations often contain ample genetic variation. Of course, such observations are biased, since those species which did not accommodate isolation are presumed extinct and thus not studied.

When one considers species which have recently undergone habitat fragmentation and population isolation, the ability to accommodate such change is clearly not present in many species. Such populations often show a dramatic decline in numbers as well as erosion of genetic variability. In these populations the role of somatic processes in the generation of genetic variation may assume an increased importance. Since only a few isolated studies have documented such somatic genomic changes in plants, the importance of such changes is subject to speculation.