High genetic diversity in a remote island population system: sans sex


Author for correspondence:
Eric F. Karlin
Tel: +1 201 684 7743


  • It has been proposed that long-distance dispersal of mosses to the Hawaiian Islands rarely occurs and that the Hawaiian population of the allopolyploid peat moss Sphagnum palustre probably resulted from a single dispersal event.
  • Here, we used microsatellites to investigate whether the Hawaiian population of the dioicous S. palustre had a single founder and to compare its genetic diversity to that found in populations of S. palustre in other regions.
  • The genetic diversity of the Hawaiian population is comparable to that of larger population systems. Several lines of evidence, including a lack of sporophytes and an apparently restricted natural distribution, suggest that sexual reproduction is absent in the Hawaiian plants. In addition, all samples of Hawaiian S. palustre share a genetic trait rare in other populations. Time to most recent ancestor (TMRCA) analysis indicates that the Hawaiian population was probably founded 49–51 kyr ago.
  • It appears that all Hawaiian plants of S. palustre descend from a single founder via vegetative propagation. The long-term viability of this clonal population coupled with the development of significant genetic diversity suggests that vegetative propagation in a moss does not necessarily preclude evolutionary success in the long term.