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Am J Bot. 2010 Feb;97(2):234-42. doi: 10.3732/ajb.0800329. Epub 2010 Jan 15.

Clonal structure and genetic diversity of three desert phreatophytes.

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Institute of Biology/Geobotany and Botanical Garden, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Am Kirchtor 1 06108 Halle (Saale), Germany.


The objective of this paper was to assess clone sizes of three perennial desert plant species with AFLP markers and to relate them to clonal and genetic diversity and to hydroecology. The study was carried out at the southern rim of the Taklamakan Desert, where sexual regeneration is only possible shortly after rare flooding events, resulting in rarely established cohorts with subsequent extensive vertical growth and horizontal clonal spread. In this environment, repeated seedling establishment is excluded. We expected decreasing clonal and genetic diversity with increasing clone size and increasing distance to the groundwater table and a common response pattern among all study species. Maximum sizes of Populus euphratica and Alhagi sparsifolia clones were 121 ha and 6.1 ha, respectively, while Tamarix ramosissima clones reached a maximum size of only 38 m(2). In P. euphratica and A. sparsifolia, clonal diversity declined with increasing clone size and increasing distance to the groundwater table, while genetic diversity remained unaffected. Tamarix ramosissima differed from the other species because of a much smaller clonality. Clone size and clonal diversity were found to be good proxy variables for clone age. Despite the considerable age of the clones, genetic diversity is maintained in the populations.

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