, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 661-669

Genetic variability, population size and reproduction potential in Ligularia sibirica (L.) populations in Estonia

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Abstract

Ligularia sibirica (L.) Cass. (Asteraceae) is a EU Habitats Directive Annex II plant species that has suffered a lot from human-caused major changes in quality and availability of habitats in Estonia. The aim of this study was to find out if the observed decline in population size is reflected in the amount of genetic variation and fertility in remnant populations of this species. AFLP technique was used for that purpose. Genetic diversity within populations was assessed as the percentage of polymorphic loci in a given population and average gene diversity over loci. The degree of genetic differentiation among populations and genetic differentiation between pairs of populations was estimated. The amount of viable seeds per flower stem was compared among populations and between years (2007 and 2008). Average genetic diversity over loci and proportion of polymorphic loci in L. sibirica populations were significantly correlated with population size, suggesting the action of genetic drift and/or inbreeding. No correlation was found between genetic and geographic distances. Natural barriers like forests may have been efficiently preventing seed migration even between geographically closer populations. Results of this study suggest that genetic erosion could be partially responsible for the lower fitness in smaller populations of this species.