Main content area

Anthropogenic fragmentation may not alter pre‐existing patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation in perennial shrubs

Llorens, Tanya M., Ayre, David J., Whelan, Robert J.
Molecular ecology 2018 v.27 no.7 pp. 1541-1555
Grevillea, alleles, fires, founder effect, genetic markers, genetic variation, habitat fragmentation, heterozygosity, inbreeding, life history, long term effects, mutation, pollen flow, population dynamics, population size, seed dispersal, shrubs
Many plant species have pollination and seed dispersal systems and evolutionary histories that have produced strong genetic structuring. These genetic patterns may be consistent with expectations following recent anthropogenic fragmentation, making it difficult to detect fragmentation effects if no prefragmentation genetic data are available. We used microsatellite markers to investigate whether severe habitat fragmentation may have affected the structure and diversity of populations of the endangered Australian bird‐pollinated shrub Grevillea caleyi R.Br., by comparing current patterns of genetic structure and diversity with those of the closely related G. longifolia R.Br. that has a similar life history but has not experienced anthropogenic fragmentation. Grevillea caleyi and G. longifolia showed similar and substantial population subdivision at all spatial levels (global F′ST = 0.615 and 0.454; Sₚ = 0.039 and 0.066), marked isolation by distance and large heterozygous deficiencies. These characteristics suggest long‐term effects of inbreeding in self‐compatible species that have poor seed dispersal, limited connectivity via pollen flow and undergo population bottlenecks because of periodic fires. Highly structured allele size distributions, most notably in G. caleyi, imply historical processes of drift and mutation were important in isolated subpopulations. Genetic diversity did not vary with population size but was lower in more isolated populations for both species. Through this comparison, we reject the hypothesis that anthropogenic fragmentation has impacted substantially on the genetic composition or structure of G. caleyi populations. Our results suggest that highly self‐compatible species with limited dispersal may be relatively resilient to the genetic changes predicted to follow habitat fragmentation.