Genetic analysis of landscape connectivity in tree populations

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Genetic connectivity in plant populations is determined by gene movement within and among populations. When populations become genetically isolated, they are at risk of loss of genetic diversity that is critical to the long-term survival of populations. Anthropogenic landscape change and habitat fragmentation have become so pervasive that they may threaten the genetic connectivity of many plant species. The theoretical consequences of such changes are generally understood, but it is not immediately apparent how concerned we should be for real organisms, distributed across real landscapes. Our goals here are to describe how one can study gene movement of both pollen and seeds in the context of changing landscapes and to explain what we have learned so far. In the first part, we will cover methods of describing pollen movement and then review evidence for the impact of fragmentation in terms of both the level of pollen flow into populations and the genetic diversity of the resulting progeny. In the second part, we will describe methods for contemporary seed movement, and describe findings about gene flow and genetic diversity resulting from seed movement. Evidence for pollen flow suggests high connectivity, but it appears that seed dispersal into fragments may create genetic bottlenecks due to limited seed sources. Future work should address the interaction of pollen and seed flow and attention needs to be paid to both gene flow and the diversity of the incoming gene pool. Moreover, if future work is to model the impact of changing landscapes on propagule movement, with all of its ensuing consequences for genetic connectivity and demographic processes, we will need an effective integration of population genetics and landscape ecology.

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