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Extensive Clonality and Strong Differentiation in the Insular Pacific Tree Santalum insulare: Implications for its Conservation

Annals of botany 2006 v.98 no.5 pp. 1061-1072
indigenous species, Santalum, endangered species, clones, genetic variation, microsatellite repeats, population genetics, germplasm conservation, islands, geographical variation, French Polynesia
BACKGROUND: and Aims The impact of evolutionary forces on insular systems is particularly exacerbated by the remoteness of islands, strong founder effects, small population size and the influence of biotic and abiotic factors. Patterns of molecular diversity were analysed in an island system with Santalum insulare, a sandalwood species endemic to eastern Polynesia. The aims were to evaluate clonality and to study the genetic diversity and structure of this species, in order to understand the evolutionary process and to define a conservation strategy. METHODS: Eight nuclear microsatellites were used to investigate clonality, genetic variation and structure of the French Polynesian sandalwood populations found on ten islands distributed over three archipelagos. Key Results It was found that 58 % of the 384 trees analysed were clones. The real size of the populations is thus dramatically reduced, with sometimes only one genet producing ramets by root suckering. The diversity parameters were low for islands (nA = 1·5-5·0; HE = 0·28-0·49). No departure from Hardy-Weinberg proportion was observed except within Tahiti island, where a significant excess of homozygotes was noted in the highland population. Genetic structure was characterized by high levels of differentiation between archipelagos (27 % of the total variation) and islands (FST = 0·50). The neighbour-joining tree did not discriminate the three archipelagos but separated the Society archipelago from the other two. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows that clonality is a frequent phenomenon in S. insulare. The genetic diversity within populations is lower than the values assessed in species distributed on the mainland, as a consequence of insularity. But this can also be explained by the overexploitation of sandalwood. The differentiation between archipelagos and islands within archipelagos is very high because of the limited gene flow due to oceanic barriers. Delineation of evolutionary significant units and principles for population management are proposed based on this molecular analysis.