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Ecol Evol. 2012 Sep;2(9):2250-61. doi: 10.1002/ece3.344. Epub 2012 Aug 5.

Fragmentation reduces regional-scale spatial genetic structure in a wind-pollinated tree because genetic barriers are removed.

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  • 1Tiantong National Observation Station of Forest Ecosystems, Department of Environmental Sciences, East China Normal University Shanghai, 200062, China ; School of Biology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK.

Abstract

Gene flow strongly influences the regional genetic structuring of plant populations. Seed and pollen dispersal patterns can respond differently to the increased isolation resulting from habitat fragmentation, with unpredictable consequences for gene flow and population structuring. In a recently fragmented landscape we compared the pre- and post-fragmentation genetic structure of populations of a tree species where pollen and seed dispersal respond differentially to forest fragmentation generated by flooding. Castanopsis sclerophylla is wind-pollinated, with seeds that are dispersed by gravity and rodents. Using microsatellites, we found no significant difference in genetic diversity between pre- and post-fragmentation cohorts. Significant genetic structure was observed in pre-fragmentation cohorts, due to an unknown genetic barrier that had isolated one small population. Among post-fragmentation cohorts this genetic barrier had disappeared and genetic structure was significantly weakened. The strengths of genetic structuring were at a similar level in both cohorts, suggesting that overall gene flow of C. sclerophylla has been unchanged by fragmentation at the regional scale. Fragmentation has blocked seed dispersal among habitats, but this appears to have been compensated for by enhanced pollen dispersal, as indicated by the disappearance of a genetic barrier, probably as a result of increased wind speeds and easier pollen movement over water. Extensive pollen flow can counteract some negative effects of fragmentation and assist the long-term persistence of small remnant populations.

KEYWORDS:

Castanopsis; dispersal barrier; fragmentation; genetic structure; pollen flow; wind-pollination

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