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Genetic and morphological variation of Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove) along the northern Pacific coast of Nicaragua


P. Bruschi, Dept of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science, Univ. of Florence, Piazzale delle Cascine 28, IT-50144 Florence, Italy. E-mail:


Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) dominates in tidally active areas of neotropical mangrove forests. Despite the ecological and economic importance of this species, we still know little about the genetic structure and diversity of its natural populations. In particular, Nicaraguan populations have not yet been investigated although they could be important for a better understanding of the evolutionary history of R. mangle in Mesoamerica. The aim of this study was to estimate the genetic and morphological variability of 4 populations sampled along the northwestern coast of Nicaragua. Microsatellite analysis showed higher levels of allelic diversity (30 alleles and a mean number of allele per locus per population = 6.42) than reported for the same species in other sites of tropical America. This variability could be attributed to the existence of a glacial refugium in the studied area and/or to repeated introgression among closely related species. Analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) revealed that there was little but significant variation among the sampled sites suggesting that the studied populations cannot be considered as a single panmictic group, although they are closely related. This result was confirmed by the Bayesian analysis and UPGMA dendrogram showing three genetically distinct clusters. Bayesian analysis of migration rates showed that propagule dispersion associated with marine currents is an important factor shaping the observed genetic structure. The scatterplot from discriminant analysis indicated significant phenotypic differences between two groups, mainly related to specific leaf area variation. The morphological similarity between PR and PO was consistent with the results of molecular analysis, supporting the common origin of these two populations. Nevertheless, we did not find a significant statistical correlation between microsatellite and morphological data. In conclusion, the results reported here contribute to a better understanding of R. mangle genetic structure and would provide baseline information to guide land managers in implementing conservation initiatives in Nicaragua.

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