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Genetic variation in remnant Festuca hallii populations is weakly differentiated, but geographically associated across the Canadian Prairie

Qiu, J., Fu, Y.B., Bai, Y., Wilmshurst, J.F. (2009). Genetic variation in remnant Festuca hallii populations is weakly differentiated, but geographically associated across the Canadian Prairie, 24(3), 156-168. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-1984.2009.00251.x

Abstract

Genetic diversity is essential for predicting plant evolutionary potential and for formulating conservation strategies. However, little is known about the genetic variation of plains rough fescue [Festuca hallii (Vasey) Piper], a widespread and diagnostic grass in the Fescue Prairie. We used the amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) technique to assess the genetic variation of 30 fragmented populations of F. hallii across the northern Canadian Prairie and its associations with 12 geographical, fragmentation and environmental attributes. Three AFLP primer pairs were used to screen 840 samples, representing approximately 30 samples from each population, and 246 polymorphic bands were scored. The fescue plant was genetically diverse, as revealed by the proportion of polymorphic bands (0.870-0.967), the mean band frequency (0.364-0.457) and the within-population variation (69.4-85.4). The genetic variation was not highly differentiated, with only 6.5% of the total AFLP variation residing among populations. A Mantel test revealed a significant correlation between genetic and geographical distances (r = 0.39; P < 0.004) and a spatial autocorrelation up to 60 km among populations was detected. The AFLP variation displayed a longitudinal decline and was significantly associated with environmental attributes related to moisture, indicating local adaptation. However, the AFLP variation was not significantly associated with the estimated population size and geographical distance to the nearest neighbor, suggesting that fragmentation has not generated considerable genetic impact on the fescue populations. Implications for fescue conservation, restoration and management are discussed. © 2009 The Society for the Study of Species Biology.

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