Main content area

Relevance of genetics for conservation policies: the case of Minorcan cork oaks

Lorenzo, Zaida, Burgarella, Concetta, de Heredia, Unai López, Lumaret, Roselyne, Petit, Rémy J., Soto, Álvaro, Gil, Luis
Annals of botany 2009 v.104 no.6 pp. 1069-1076
microsatellite repeats, islands, genetic variation, guidelines, surveys, environmental factors, genes, species diversity, Quercus suber, case studies, population structure, issues and policy, Balearic Islands, France, Spain
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Marginal populations of widely distributed species can be of high conservation interest when they hold a significant or unique portion of the genetic diversity of the species. However, such genetic information is frequently lacking. Here the relevance of genetic surveys to develop efficient conservation strategies for such populations is illustrated using cork oak (Quercus suber) from Minorca (Balearic Islands, Spain) as a case study. Cork oak is highly endangered on the island, where no more than 67 individuals live in small, isolated stands in siliceous sites. As a consequence, it was recently granted protected status. METHODS: Two Bayesian clustering approaches were used to analyse the genetic structure of the Minorcan population, on the basis of nuclear microsatellite data. The different groups within the island were also compared with additional island and continental populations surrounding Minorca. KEY RESULTS: Very high genetic diversity was found, with values comparable with those observed in continental parts of the species' range. Furthermore, the Minorcan oak stands were highly differentiated from one another and were genetically related to different continental populations of France and Spain. CONCLUSIONS: The high levels of genetic diversity and inter-stands differentiation make Minorcan cork oak eligible for specific conservation efforts. The relationship of Minorcan stands to different continental populations in France and Spain probably reflects multiple colonization events. However, discrepancy between chloroplast DNA- and nuclear DNA-based groups does not support a simple scenario of recent introduction. Gene exchanges between neighbouring cork oak stands and with holm oak have created specific and exceptional genetic combinations. They also constitute a wide range of potential genetic resources for research on adaptation to new environmental conditions. Conservation guidelines that take into account these findings are provided.