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Geographic patterns of genetic diversity in Poulsenia armata (Moraceae): implications for the theory of Pleistocene refugia and the importance of riparian forest

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Abstract. Tropical forests are species‐diverse communities, but we know very little about the geographical distribution of genetic diversity within a species. During the late Pleistocene, lower temperatures and rainfall reduced the distribution of tropical wet forests, and in Central America lowland species may have been limited to riparian habitats. Approximately 12,000 years bp, temperature and rainfall increased in Central America, the distribution of wet forest species expanded, and today the distribution of some species extends into southern Mexico. The distribution of genetic diversity, based on RAPD markers, among ten populations of Poulsenia armata (Miq.) Standl. (Moraceae) suggests that these populations did not originate from a single refugium or region in the late Pleistocene. The Central American populations had high genetic diversity and unique bands giving support to the hypothesis that populations of P. armata occurred in Central American during the late Pleistocene. The majority of genetic diversity was partitioned among populations and there was no geographical relationship among populations, suggesting that these populations were isolated for a long period and there has been little gene flow. Populations of P. armata may have persisted in riparian zones along the Caribbean coast during the late Pleistocene. Given that riparian forest can support high levels of biodiversity in ecological time, and they have played an important role during periods of climate change over geological time, their conservation is of utmost importance particularly with the threat of a rapid shift in climatic patterns.
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Language: English

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: PO Box 23360, Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931–3360.

Publication date: July 1, 1998

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