Genetic Structure and Gene Flow in Elymus glaucus (blue wildrye): Implications for Native Grassland Restoration



Interest in using native grass species for restoration is increasing, yet little is known about the ecology and genetics of native grass populations or the spatial scales over which seed can be transferred and successfully grown. The purpose of this study was to investigate the genetic structure within and among populations of Elymus glaucus in order to make some preliminary recommendations for the transfer and use of this species in revegetation and restoration projects. Twenty populations from California, Oregon, and Washington were analyzed for allozyme genotype at 20 loci, and patterns of variation within and among populations were determined. Allozyme variation at the species level was high, with 80% of the loci polymorphic and an average expected heterozygosity (an index of genetic diversity) of 0.194. All but two of the populations showed some level of polymorphism. A high degree of population differentiation was found, with 54.9% of the variation at allozyme loci partitioned among populations (Fst= 0.549). A lesser degree of genetic differentiation among closely spaced subpopulations within one of the populations was also demonstrated (Fst= 0.124). Self-pollination and the patchy natural distribution of the species both likely contribute to the low level of gene flow (Nm= 0.205) that was estimated. Zones developed for the transfer of seed of commercial conifer species may be inappropriate for transfer of E. glaucus germplasm because conifer species are characterized by high levels of gene flow. Limited gene flow in E. glaucus can facilitate the divergence of populations over relatively small spatial scales. This genetic differentiation can be due to random genetic drift, localized selective pressures, or both. In order to minimize the chances of planting poorly adapted germplasm, seed of E. glaucus may need to be collected in close proximity to the proposed restoration site.