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Keywords:

  • AFLP markers;
  • genetic resources;
  • in situ populations;
  • wild crop relatives

Abstract

The cultivated potato (Solanum tuberosum ssp. tuberosum) has more than 200 related wild species distributed along the Andes, adapted to a wide range of geographical and ecological areas. Since the last century, several collection expeditions were carried out to incorporate genetic variability into the potato germplasm around the world. However, little is known about the reproductive ecology and genetic population structure of natural potato population from field studies. The aim of this work is to study, in the field, the genetic variability and reproductive strategies of populations of one of the most widely distributed potato species in Argentina, Solanum kurtzianum, growing in Mendoza province. AFLP markers showed that the genetic variability is mainly present among plants within populations, indicating that in the sampled populations, sexual reproduction is more relevant than clonal multiplication (by tubers). Additional evidence was obtained evaluating the genetic diversity in populations with a distribution in patches, where several genotypes were always detected. From a field study performed in the Villavicencio Natural Reserve, we found that the average number of plump seeds per fruit was 94.3, identified and calculated the foraging distance of four insect pollinators, and demonstrated the seed dispersal by storm water channels. We argue that the breeding system, the two modes of reproduction and the ecological interaction described here may have a prominent role in determining the genetic structure of S. kurtzianum populations, and discuss the importance of field studies on population genetics, reproductive biology and ecology to design collections and conservation strategies.