Clonal Dynamics in Western North American Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Molecular Ecology







Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Clonality is a common phenomenon in plants, allowing genets to persist asexually for much longer periods of time than ramets. The relative frequency of sexual vs. asexual reproduction determines long-term dominance and persistence of clonal plants at the landscape scale. One of the most familiar and valued clonal plants in North America is aspen (Populus tremuloides). Previous researchers have suggested that aspen in xeric landscapes of the intermountain west represent genets of great chronological age, maintained via clonal expansion in the near absence of sexual reproduction. We synthesized microsatellite data from 1371 ramets in two large sampling grids in Utah. We found a surprisingly large number of distinct genets, some covering large spatial areas, but most represented by only one to a few individual ramets at a sampling scale of 50 m. In general, multi-ramet genets were spatially cohesive, although some genets appear to be fragmented remnants of much larger clones. We conclude that recent sexual reproduction in these landscapes is a stronger contributor to standing genetic variation at the population level than the accumulation of somatic mutations, and that even some of the spatially large clones may not be as ancient as previously supposed. Further, a striking majority of the largest genets in both study areas had three alleles at one or more loci, suggesting triploidy or aneuploidy. These genets tended to be spatially clustered but not closely related. Together, these findings substantially advance our understanding of clonal dynamics in western North American aspen, and set the stage for a broad range of future studies.


Originally published by Wiley-Blackwell. Publisher's HTML full text and PDF available through remote link.