Overviews on patterns of genetic variation within and among plant populations show that widespread, outcrossing species should have a high proportion of the total genetic variation within populations and a low proportion among populations, which results in little population differentiation. However, in Alpine areas, large–scale distribution barriers as well as small-scale habitat heterogeneity could lead to geographical and temporal isolation, respectively. We investigated the genetic variation of Saxifraga oppositifolia from 10 populations of the Alps in southeastern Switzerland using random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD). Based on the banding patterns of four RAPD primers, 84 polymorphic markers identified all 189 sampled individuals as being genetically different. The genetic variation was mainly found within populations (95%), whereas less than 5% was found among populations and among regions. Analyses of molecular variance (AMOVA) suggested that population differentiation was highly significant. However, grouping populations differently into regions did not appear to result in a clear correspondence of genetic and geographical relatedness. Genetic variation did not significantly differ between populations of two elevational levels. This coincides with results of former pollination experiments that revealed a breeding system of S. oppositifolia which remains the same irrespective of the elevation. We assume that the high outcrossing rate, rare clonal reproduction, and some long-distance dispersal even among topographically separated populations are the crucial determinants for the pattern of genetic variation found in the investigated area.
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