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Keywords:

  • Clonal growth;
  • distribution rage;
  • fragmentation;
  • Orthilia secunda;
  • range-edge effects

ABSTRACT

Existing in suboptimal conditions is a frequent occurrence for species inhabiting the cusp of their ecological range. In range-edge populations of plants, the scarcity of suitable habitat may be reflected in small population sizes which may result in increased self-pollination and/or inbreeding and an increase in the incidence of clonal reproduction. These factors may result in a decrease in levels of genetic diversity and a loss of potential adaptive variation that may compromise species’ ability to cope with changes in their environment, an issue that is particularly relevant today with the current concern surrounding global climate change and its effect on species’ distributional ranges. In the present study, we have compared the levels of clonal reproduction in the one-sided wintergreen Orthilia secunda (L.) House in (1) populations from its main continuous distribution range, (2) populations occurring on the limits of the continuous range, and (3) peripheral populations outwith the species’ continuous distribution range. Range-edge populations in Scotland and Sweden displayed significantly lower genotypic richness and diversity than those from the main area of the species’ distribution in these countries. Populations from Ireland, which occur in the temperate zone rather than the boreal conditions that are the preferred habitat for the species, and which represent relict populations left over from cooler periods in the Earth's history, displayed no within-population genetic diversity, suggesting a complete lack of sexual reproduction. Furthermore, the genetic distinctiveness of the Irish populations, which contained alleles not found in either the Scottish or the Swedish populations, highlights the value of ‘trailing edge’ populations and supports the concept of ‘parochial conservation’, namely the conservation of species that are locally rare but globally common.