Estimates of Gene Flow, Genetic Substructure and Population Heterogeneity in Bracken (pteridium aquilinum)

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Biological Journal of the Linnean Society



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Bracken [Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn] is a cosmopolitan species and is a noxious weed in many areas. Because of its abundance, particularly in Britain, bracken affords an ideal system for investigating various aspects of population genetics and evolution. High mobility of dispersal units (spores) suggests that rates of gene flow among distant populations should be high. Gene flow is a major evolutionary force that influences the genetic structure of populations. To examine the effects of gene flow on population heterogeneity and population substructuring in bracken, starch gel electrophoresis of enzymes was used to provide the necessary genetic database. Allele frequency data at 21 loci were obtained for seven British populations, one Majorcan and one from the eastern United States. A model was employed to estimate the amount of gene flow (Nm) at several levels. Gene flow among British populations was extremely high (Nm= 36.51), one of the highest estimates reported for plants. Among eight European populations gene flow was lower (but still considered high) at Nm= 2.47. Trans-Atlantic gene flow was low (Nm= 0.0926). F-statistics were used to assess population heterogeneity and substructuring. The data indicate that, compared with other species, there is very little genetic differentiation among British populations of bracken. Indeed, it appears that the whole island is behaving as a single randommating population. This result is consistent with high levels of gene flow. Only one population (on the Isle of Arran) showed statistically significant genetic substructuring. Habitat heterogeneity on the island and age structure are hypothesized as possible causes of this result. The data reported here support previous studies demonstrating that bracken is genetically polymorphic and is an outcrossing species.

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