We performed demographic and molecular investigations on woodland populations of the clonal herb Viola riviniana in central Germany. We investigated the pattern of seedling recruitment, the amount of genotypic (clonal) variation and the partitioning of genetic variation among and within populations. Our demographic study was carried out in six violet populations of different ages and habitat conditions. It revealed that repeated seedling recruitment takes place in all of these populations, and that clonal propagation is accompanied by high ramet mortality. Our molecular investigations were performed on a subset of three of these six violet populations. Random amplified polymorphic DNA analyses using six primers yielded 45 scorable bands that were used to identify multilocus genotypes, i.e. putative clones. Consistent with our demographic results and independent of population age, we found a large genotypic diversity with a mean proportion of distinguishable genotypes of 0.93 and a mean Simpson's diversity index of 0.99. Using AMOVA we found a strong genetic differentiation among these violet populations with a PhiST value of 0.41. We suggest that a high selfing rate, limited gene flow due to short seed dispersal distances and drift due to founder effects are responsible for this pattern. Although Viola riviniana is a clonal plant, traits associated with sexual reproduction rather than clonality per se are moulding the pattern of genetic variation in this species.
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