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Does habitat fragmentation reduce genetic diversity and subpopulation connectivity?

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The estimation of levels of genetic variation has received considerable attention because it is generally thought to be indicative of overall species vitality and the potential for evolutionary responses to environmental changes. Here, we use allozymes markers and two distinct collections of Cakile maritima, an annual species from sandy coastal habitats (2000 generation and 2005 generation collected from 9 populations in their natural habitats), to assess the magnitude of expected genetic change. We compared genetic diversity between generations (all populations combined), and then between populations at each generation.

Based on 13 loci scored from the eight enzymes examined, a high genetic diversity was detected at both the population and generation level as compared to other herbaceous species. However, allelic richness reduction in the 2005 generation suggested restricted gene flow and a high risk of future genetic bottlenecks, if larger tracts of coastal areas disappear. Most loci showed deviation from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium due to excess of heterozygotes in all populations suggesting that this species has an allogamic mode of reproduction.

It appears most likely that this species has experienced a recent decrease in population size, and that genetic drift in small populations has resulted in a loss of alleles occurring at low frequency. Despite the deterioration process, maintenance of high genetic diversity suggests that there are some ecological factors determining population structure.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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