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Understanding population structure and historical demography in a conservation context: population genetics of an endangered fern

Kang, Ming, Huang, Hongwen, Jiang, Mingxi, Lowe, Andrew J.
Diversity & distributions 2008 v.14 no.5 pp. 799-807
Adiantum, biodiversity, demography, ferns and fern allies, flora, gene flow, genetic drift, genetic variation, inbreeding, landscapes, microsatellite repeats, monitoring, population dynamics, population structure, Yangtze River
The construction of the world's largest hydroelectric scheme across the Yangtze River, the Three Gorges Dams (TGD), in the centre of a southern-central Chinese biodiversity hot spot, the Three Gorges Reservoir Area (TGRA), has attracted international concern and conservation action. To examine whether landscape changes to date have impacted regional flora, and to establish long-term monitoring baselines, we assessed the distribution and dynamics of an endangered and TGRA endemic fern, Adiantum reniforme var. sinense. For eight nuclear microsatellites, high levels of genetic diversity (HE = 0.653-0.781) and slightly elevated inbreeding (FIS = 0.077-0.197) were found across 13 surveyed populations. The population history of this fern is characterized by a balance of gene flow and genetic drift, where historical dispersal, inferred from coalescent (F = 0.129) and genetic differentiation (FST = 0.094 and RST = 0.180) approaches, is moderate, reflecting an isolation by distance relationship. Importantly, most populations exhibited mutation-drift disequilibrium, suggesting a recent population decline, which is congruent with the known demographic history of the species following dam-related activities. Based on these results, populations of A. reniforme var. sinense are expected to lose genetic diversity and increase genetic structure as dam-related activities decrease size and increase genetic isolation of remnants.