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Neutral processes contribute to patterns of spatial variation for flower colour in the Mediterranean Iris lutescens (Iridaceae)

Wang, Hui, Talavera, María, Min, Ya, Flaven, Elodie, Imbert, Eric
Annals of botany 2016 v.117 no.6 pp. 995-1007
Iridaceae, color, flowers, gene flow, genetic drift, genetic markers, genetic variation, genotyping, models, natural selection, phenotype, population structure, reflectance spectroscopy, France, Mediterranean region, Spain
Background and Aims Flower colour polymorphism in plants has been used as a classic model for understanding the importance of neutral processes vs. natural selection in population differentiation. However, current explanations for the maintenance of flower colour polymorphism mainly rely on balancing selection, while neutral processes have seldom been championed. Iris lutescens (Iridaceae) is a widespread species in the northern Mediterranean basin, which shows a stable and striking purple–yellow flower colour polymorphism. To evaluate the roles of neutral processes in the spatial variation for flower colour in this species, patterns of neutral genetic variation across its distribution range were quantified, and phenotypic differentiation was compared with neutral genetic differentiation. Methods Genetic diversity levels and population genetic structure were investigated through the genotyping of a collection of 1120 individuals in 41 populations ranging from Spain to France, using a set of eight newly developed microsatellite markers. In addition, phenotypic differentiation for flower colour was also quantified by counting colour morph frequency in each population, and measuring the reflectance spectra of sampled individuals. Key Results Populations in Spain present a sharp colour transition from solely purple to solely yellow. The results provide evidence that genetic drift through limited gene flow is important in the evolution of monomorphic populations. In contrast, most populations in France are polymorphic with both phenotypes, and the colour frequencies vary geographically without any spatial gradients observed. A pattern of isolation by distance is detected in France, and gene flow between adjacent populations seems to be an important factor maintaining populations polymorphic. Conclusions Overall, neutral processes contribute to patterns of spatial variation for flower colour in I. lutescens, but it cannot be excluded that natural selection is also operating. An interaction between neutral processes and natural selection is suggested to explain the spatial variation for flower colour in I. lutescens.