, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 251-266

The influence of spatial scale on the genetic structure of a widespread tropical wetland tree, Pterocarpus officinalis (Fabaceae)

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Identifying factors that cause genetic differentiation in plant populations and the spatial scale at which genetic structuring can be detected will help to understand plant population dynamics and identify conservation units. In this study, we determined the genetic structure and diversity of Pterocarpus officinalis, a widespread tropical wetland tree, at three spatial scales: (1) drainage basin “watershed” (<10 km), (2) within Puerto Rico (<100 km), and (3) Caribbean-wide (>1000 km) using AFLP. At all three spatial scales, most of the genetic variation occurred within populations, but as the spatial scale increased from the watershed to the Caribbean region, there was an increase in the among population variation (ΦST=0.19 to ΦST=0.53). At the watershed scale, there was no significant differentiation (P=0.77) among populations in the different watersheds, although there was some evidence that montane and coastal populations differed (P<0.01). At the island scale, there was significant differentiation (P<0.001) among four populations in Puerto Rico. At the regional scale (>1000 km), we found significant differentiation (P<0.001) between island and continental populations in the Caribbean region, which we attributed to factors associated with the colonization history of P. officinalis in the Neotropics. Given that genetic structure can occur from local to regional spatial scales, it is critical that conservation recommendations be based on genetic information collected at the appropriate spatial scale.