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Genetic structure and genetic diversity of the endangered grassland plant Crepis mollis (Jacq.) Asch. as a basis for conservation management in Germany

Duwe, VirginiaK., Muller, LudoA. H., Reichel, Katja, Zippel, Elke, Borsch, Thomas, Ismail, SaschaA.
Conservation genetics 2018 v.19 no.3 pp. 527-543
Crepis, correlation, gene flow, genetic variation, genotyping, grasslands, habitat fragmentation, habitats, highlands, inbreeding, microsatellite repeats, pollination, population size, seed dispersal, species diversity, viability, wind, Germany
Plant diversity is decreasing mainly through anthropogenic factors like habitat fragmentation, which lead to spatial separation of remaining populations and thereby affect genetic diversity and structure within species. Twenty populations of the threatened grassland species Crepis mollis were studied across Germany (578 individual plants) based on microsatellite genotyping. Genetic diversity was significantly higher in populations from the Alpine region than from the Central Uplands. Furthermore, genetic diversity was significantly positively correlated with population size. Despite smaller populations in the Uplands there were no signs of inbreeding. Genetic differentiation between populations was moderate (F ST = 0.09) and no isolation by distance was found. In contrast, large-scale spatial genetic structure showed a significant decrease of individual pairwise relatedness, which was higher than in random pairs up to 50 km. Bayesian analyses detected three genetic clusters consistent with two regions in the Uplands and an admixture group in the Alpine region. Despite the obvious spatial isolation of the currently known populations, the absence of significant isolation by distance combined together with moderate population differentiation indicates that drift rather than inter-population gene flow drives differentiation. The absence of inbreeding suggests that pollination is still effective, while seed dispersal by wind is likely to be impaired by discontinuous habitats. Our results underline the need for maintaining or improving habitat quality as the most important short term measure for C. mollis. For maintaining long-term viability, establishing stepping stone habitats or, where this is not possible, assisted gene flow needs to be considered.