Biased morph ratios and skewed mating success contribute to loss of genetic diversity in the distylous Pulmonaria officinalis

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Abstract

Background and Aims

In heterostylous plant species, skewed morph ratios are not uncommon and may arise from a range of factors. Despite the recognized importance of skewed morph ratios on overall reproductive success within populations, little is known about the impact of skewed morph ratios on population genetic diversity and differentiation in heterostylous species. This study specifically aimed to clarify the effect of population size and morph bias on population genetic diversity and differentiation in the temperate forest herb Pulmonaria officinalis. This species is characterized by a distylous breeding system and shows morph-specific differences in reproductive success.

Methods

Genetic diversity was determined for 27 P. officinalis populations in northern Belgium by using eight recently developed microsatellite markers. Multiple regressions were used to assess the relationship between genetic diversity, morph bias and population size, and FST-values were calculated for short- and long-styled morphs separately to study genetic differentiation as a function of morph type.

Key Results

For all genetic measures used, morph bias was more important in explaining patterns of genetic diversity than population size, and in all cases patterns of population genetic diversity followed a quadratic function, which showed a symmetrical decrease in genetic diversity with increasing morph bias. However, probably due to the reproductive advantage of L-morphs relative to S-morphs, maximum genetic diversity was found in populations showing an excess of L-morphs (60·7 % L-morph). On the other hand, no significant difference in pairwise genetic distances between populations was observed between L- (0·107) and S-morphs (0·106).

Conclusions

Our results indicate that significant deviations from equal morph ratios not only affect plant reproductive success but also population genetic diversity of heterostylous plant species. Hence, when defining conservation measures for populations of heterostylous plant species, morph ratios should be considered as an important trait affecting their long-term population viability.

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