Genetic consequences of being a dwarf: do evolutionary changes in life-history traits influence gene flow patterns in populations of the world's smallest goldenrod?Ann Bot. 2020 06 19; 126(1):163-177.AB
BACKGROUND AND AIMS
Contrasting life-history traits can evolve through generations of dwarf plant ecotypes, yet such phenotypic changes often involve decreased plant size and reproductive allocation, which can configure seed dispersal patterns and, subsequently, population demography. Therefore, evolutionary transitions to dwarfism can represent good study systems to test the roles of life-history traits in population demography by comparing genetic structure between related but phenotypically divergent ecotypes.
In this study, we examined an ecotypic taxon pair of the world's smallest goldenrod (stem height 2.6 cm) in alpine habitats and its closely related lowland taxon (30-40 cm) found on Yakushima Island, Japan. Genetic variation in chloroplast DNA sequences, nuclear microsatellites and genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphisms were used to investigate 197 samples from 16 populations, to infer the population genetic demography and compare local genetic structure of the ecotypes.
We found a pronounced level of genetic differentiation among alpine dwarf populations, which were much less geographically isolated than their lowland counterparts. In particular, several neighbouring dwarf populations (located ~500 m apart) harboured completely different sets of chloroplast haplotypes and nuclear genetic clusters. Demographic modelling revealed that the dwarf populations have not exchanged genes at significant levels after population divergence.
These lines of evidence suggest that substantial effects of genetic drift have operated on these dwarf populations. The low-growing stature and reduced fecundity (only 3.1 heads per plant) of the dwarf plants may have reduced gene flow and rare long-distance seed dispersal among habitat patches, although the effects of life-history traits require further evaluation using ecological approaches.