Genetic connectivity of the moth pollinated tree Glionnetia sericeain a highly fragmented habitat

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Abstract

Long-distance gene flow is thought to be one prerequisite for the persistence of plant species in fragmented environments. Human influences have led to severe fragmentation of native habitats in the Seychelles islands, with many species surviving only in small and isolated populations. The endangered Seychelles endemic tree Glionnetia sericea is restricted to altitudes between 450 m and 900 m where the native forest vegetation has been largely lost and replaced with exotic invasives over the last 200 years. This study explores the genetic and ecological consequences of population fragmentation in this species by analysing patterns of genetic diversity in a sample of adults, juveniles and seeds, and by using controlled pollination experiments. Our results show no decrease in genetic diversity and no increase in genetic structuring from adult to juvenile cohorts. Despite significant inbreeding in some populations, there is no evidence of higher inbreeding in juvenile cohorts relative to adults. A Bayesian structure analysis and a tentative paternity analysis indicate extensive historical and contemporary gene flow among remnant populations. Pollination experiments and a paternity analysis show that Glionnetia sericea is self-compatible. Nevertheless, outcrossing is present with 7% of mating events resulting from pollen transfer between populations. Artificial pollination provided no evidence for pollen limitation in isolated populations. The highly mobile and specialized hawkmoth pollinators (Agrius convolvuli and Cenophodes tamsi; Sphingidae) appear to promote extensive gene flow, thus mitigating the potential negative ecological and genetic effects of habitat fragmentation in this species. We conclude that contemporary gene flow is sufficient to maintain genetic connectivity in this rare and restricted Seychelles endemic, in contrast to other island endemic tree species with limited contemporary gene flow.

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Finger, A., Kaiser-Bunbury, C. N., Kettle, C. J., Valentin, T., & Ghazoul, J. (2014). Genetic connectivity of the moth pollinated tree Glionnetia sericeain a highly fragmented habitat. PLoS ONE, 9(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0111111

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