High levels of genetic structuring as a result of population fragmentation in the tropical tree species Caesalpinia echinata Lam.

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We have investigated levels of genetic diversity within and among seven remnant populations of Caesalpinia echinata Lam., an endangered species found as fragmented populations in three major areas around the coastal regions of Brazil. Using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) genetic markers, we detected levels of within-population genetic diversity ranging from 0.092 to 0.163, with the lowest values generally being found in the smallest populations. Estimates of between-population genetic differentiation were strongly correlated with geographical distance (r = 0.884, p < 0.001), which,along with a neighbour-joining phylogenetic analysis, strongly suggested high levels of genetic isolation by distance. Over half (62%) of the total genetic diversity was partitioned between populations, further highlighting the genetic distinctness of individual populations. Taken together, these results suggest that fragmentation has led to an increase in population differentiation between fragments of C. echinata. These formations will be of great value in the development of conservation plans for species exhibiting high levels of genetic differentiation due to fragmentation, such as indication of conservation unit size, which populations should be chosen as priority in conservation plans and which samples should be introduced in areas with a low number of individuals of brazilwood.

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