Evidence of spatial genetic structure in a California bunchgrass population
We investigated the scale of genetic variation of purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra), a species commonly used in California for grassland restoration. Common garden and field data revealed evidence of genetic differentiation between two intermixed microhabitats characterized by differences in soil depth and community composition. We assessed the genetic variation within a single population using randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) data collected from clusters of five individuals in 40 locations. We found no evidence for genetic structure at the whole population level. At smaller spatial scales, however, we found strong evidence that genetic subdivision of the population occurs at the level of the maternal neighborhood. We suggest that the interaction between widespread pollen dispersal and restricted seed dispersal may be the primary factor generating these results; panmictic pollen dispersal will make detection of genetic patterning difficult at larger spatial scales while limited seed dispersal will generate local genetic structure. As a result, the detection of population genetic structure will depend on the spatial scale of analysis. Local selection gradients related to topography and soil depth are also likely to play a role in structuring local genetic variation. Since N. pulchra is widely used in California in grassland and woodland habitat restoration, we suggest that, as a general rule, care should be exercised in transferring germplasm for the purposes of conservation when little is known about the within-population genetic subdivision of a plant species.
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