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Am J Bot. 2000 Jul;87(7):909-19.

Plant genetic diversity in the Canary Islands: a conservation perspective.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, University Park, Miami, Florida 33199 (correspondence) and Fairchild Tropical Garden, 11935 Old Cutler Road, Miami, Florida 33156 USA;


The Canary Islands are an Atlantic volcanic archipelago with a rich flora of ∼570 endemic species. The endemics represent ∼40% of the native flora of the islands, and ∼20% of the endemics are in the E (endangered) category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A review of allozyme variation in 69 endemic species belonging to 18 genera and eight families is presented. The average species-level genetic diversity (H(T)) at allozyme loci is 0.186, which is twice as high as the mean reported for endemics of Pacific archipelagos. Possible factors contributing to this higher diversity are discussed, but the reasons remain obscure. An average of 28% of the allozyme diversity within species resides among populations, indicating a high level of interpopulational differentiation. Studies of reproductive biology indicate that many of the endemic species are outcrossers. The high total diversity within species, the relatively high differentiation among populations, and the outcrossing breeding systems have implications for species conservation. Decreased population sizes in outcrossing species would promote biparental inbreeding and increase inbreeding depression. The relatively high proportion of allozyme diversity among populations indicates that the most effective strategy for preserving genetic variation in species is to conserve as many populations as possible. The genetic diversity in many Canary Island endemics is endangered by: (1) overgrazing by introduced animals, such as barbary sheep, goats, mouflons, rabbits, and sheep; (2) interspecific hybridization following habitat disturbance or planting of endemics along roadsides or in public gardens; (3) competition with alien plant species; and (4) decline of population size because of urban development and farming.

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