Conservation Genetics

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 963–972 | Cite as

Conservation genetics of an endemic from the Mediterranean Basin: high genetic differentiation but no genetic diversity loss from the last populations of the Sicilian Grape Hyacinth Leopoldia gussonei

  • K. Vandepitte
  • A. S. Gristina
  • R. De Raedt
  • I. Roldán-Ruiz
  • C. Marcenò
  • S. Sciandrello
  • O. Honnay
Research Article


The Mediterranean Basin is a biodiversity hotspot, housing >11.000 narrowly endemic plant species, many of which are declining due to mass tourism and agricultural intensification. To investigate the genetic resource impacts of ongoing habitat loss and degradation, we characterized the genetic variation in the last known populations of Leopoldia gussonei, a self-compatible endangered Sicilian Grape Hyacinth numbering less than 3,000 remaining individuals, using AFLP. Results demonstrated significant genome-wide genetic differentiation among all extant populations (ΦST = 0.05–0.56), and genetic clustering according to geographic location. Gene diversity was fairly constant across population (mean HE = 0.13) and was neither affected by current population size nor by spatial isolation. Vegetation analysis showed the presence of known invasive weeds in a quarter of the populations, but we found no relation between genetic diversity and plant community composition. The marked genetic differences among populations and the profusion of rare and private alleles indicate that any further population loss will lead to significant losses of genetic diversity. Conservation efforts should therefore focus on the preservation of all sites where L. gussonei still occurs, yet the deliberate introduction of diverse material into the smallest populations seems unneeded as clonality likely mitigated genetic drift effects thus far. More generally, our findings support the view that endemic plant species with a narrow ecological amplitude, as many specialists in Mediterranean coastal ecosystems, are highly genetically differentiated and that conservation of their genetic diversity requires preservation of most, if not all of their extant populations.


Mediterranean Basin AFLP Asparagaceae Habitat loss Habitat degradation Narrow endemics 



KV holds a postdoctoral fellowship of the Research Foundation—Flanders (FWO).


  1. Aguilar R, Quesada M, Ashworth L, Lobo J, Herrarias-Diego (2008) Genetic consequences of habitat fragmentation in plant populations: susceptible signals in plant traits and methodological approaches. Mol Ecol 17:5177–5188PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Albo G (1919) La vita delle piante vascolari nella Sicilia meridionale-orientale. Parte II, FloraGoogle Scholar
  3. Bakker JP (1976) Phytogeographical aspects of the vegetation of the outer dunes in the Atlantic province of Europe. J Biogeogr 3:85–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Breinholt JW, Van Buren R, Kopp OR, Stephen CL (2009) Population genetic structure of an endangered Utah endemic Astragalus ampullarioides (Fabaceae) (Welsh) Welsh. Amer J Bot 96:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brullo S, Marcenò C (1974) Vulpio-Leopoldietum gussonei ass. nov. dell’Alkanneto-Malcolmion nella Sicilia meridionale. Notiziario Fitosociologico 8:75–85Google Scholar
  6. Brullo C, Giusso del Galdo G, Marcenò C, Minissale P, Sciandrello S (2011) Leopoldia gussonei. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red list of threatened species. Version 2012.1. Downloaded on 24 June 2012
  7. Cole CT (2003) Genetic variation in rare and common plants. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 34:213–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crema S, Cristofolini G, Rossi M, Conte L (2009) High genetic diversity detected in the endemic Primula apennina Widmer (Primulaceae) using ISSR fingertyping. Pl Syst Evol 280:29–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cundari R, Fontana F, Giardina G, Longhitano N (2003) La flora della Riserva N.O. “Pino d’Aleppo” (Sicilia Meridionale-Orientale). In: Italian Botanical Society (ed.), 98° Congresso S.B.I. Riassunti, 229, CataniaGoogle Scholar
  10. Dallman PF (1998) Plant life in the World’s Mediterranean climates. California native plant society. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  11. de Vere N, Jongejans E, Plowman A, Williams E (2009) Population size and habitat quality affect genetic diversity and fitness in the clonal herb Cirsium dissectum. Oecologia 159:59–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ellstrand NC, Elam DR (1993) Population genetic consequences of small population size: implications for plant conservation. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 24:217–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evanno G, Regnaut S, Goudet J (2005) Detecting the number of clusters of individuals using the software STRUCTURE: a simulation study. Mol Ecol 14:2611–2620PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Excoffier L, Smouse PE, Quattro JM (1992) Analysis of molecular variance inferred from metric distances among DNA haplotypes: application to human mitochondrial DNA restriction sites. Genetics 131:479–491PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Falush D, Stephens M, Pritchard JK (2007) Inference of population structure using multilocus genotype data: dominant markers and null alleles. Mol Ecol Notes 7:574–578PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Frey DJ, Haag CR, Kozlowski G, Mráz P (2012) High genetic and morphological diversity despite range contraction in the diploid Hieracium eriophorum (Asteraceae) endemic to the coastal sand dunes of South-Western France. Bot J Linn Soc 169:365–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Garbari F, Di Martino A (1972) Leopoldia gussonei Parl. (Liliaceae), species endemica siciliana. Webbia 27:289–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Géhu JM, Franck J (1985) Données synchorologiques sur la végétation littorale européenne. Vegetatio 59:73–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gitzendanner MA, Soltis PS (2000) Patterns of genetic variation in rare and widespread plant congeners. Amer J Bot 87:783–792CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Greuter W (1991) Botanical diversity, endemism, rarity, and extinction in the Mediterranean area: an analysis based on the published volumes of med-checklist. Bot Chron (Patras) 10:63–79Google Scholar
  21. Greuter W (1994) Extinctions in Mediterranean areas. Philos Trans Ser B 344:41–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haig SM (1998) Molecular contributions to conservation. Ecology 79:413–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hamrick JL, Godt MJW (1996) Effects of life history traits on genetic diversity in plant species. Phil Trans Roy Soc London Biol Sci 351:1291–1298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hill MO, Gauch HG (1980) Detrended correspondence analysis: an improved ordination technique. Vegetatio 42:47–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Honnay O, Jacquemyn H (2007) Susceptibility of common and rare plant species to the genetic consequences of habitat fragmentation. Conserv Biol 21:823–831PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Honnay O, Jacquemyn H, Roldán-Ruiz I, Hermy M (2006) Consequences of prolonged clonal growth on local and regional genetic structure and fruiting success of the forest perennial Maianthemum bifolium. Oikos 112:21–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Huff DR, Peakall R, Smouse PE (1993) RAPD variation within and among populations of outcrossing buffalograss (Buchloë dactyloides (Nutt.) Engelm). Theor Appl Genet 86:927–934CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Juan A, Crespo MB, Cowan RS, Lexer C, Fay MF (2004) Patterns of variability and gene flow in Medicago citrina, an endangered endemic of islands in the western Mediterranean, as revealed by amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP). Mol Ecol 13:2679–2690PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jump AS, Marchant R, Peñuelas J (2009) Environmental change and the option value of genetic diversity. Trends Plant Sci 14:51–58PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leimu R, Mutikainen P, Koricheva J et al (2006) How general are positive associations between population size, fitness, and genetic variation? J Ecol 94:942–952CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Liu YF, Wang Y, Huang H (2006) High interpopulation genetic differentiation and unidirectional linear migration patterns in Myricaria laxiflora (Tamaricaceae), an endemic riparian plant in the three Gorges Valley of the Yangtze river. Amer J Bot 93:206–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Luijten SH, Dierick A, Oostermeijer JGB, Raijmann LEL, Den Nijs HCM (2000) Population size, genetic variation, and reproductive success in a rapidly declining, self-incompatible perennial (Arnica montana) in The Netherlands. Cons Biol 14:1776–1787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Médail F, Quézel P (1999) Biodiversity hotspots in the Mediterranean Basin: setting global conservation priorities. Cons Biol 13:1510–1513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Neel MC (2008) Patch connectivity and genetic diversity conservation in the federally endangered and narrowly endemic plant species Astragalus albens (Fabaceae). Biol Conservation 141:938–955CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nielsen LR (2004) Molecular differentiation within and among Island Populations of the Endemic Plant Scalesia affinis (Asteraceae) from the Galápagos Islands. Heredity 93:434–442PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nybom H (2004) Comparison of different nuclear DNA markers for estimating intraspecific genetic diversity in plants. Mol Ecol 13:1143–1155PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Palacios C, Kresovich S, González-Candelas F (1999) A population genetic study of the endangered plant species Limonium dufourii (Plumbaginaceae) based on amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP). Mol Ecol 8:645–657CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Palop-Esteban M, Segarra-Moragues JG, González-Candelas F (2007) Historical and biological determinants of genetic diversity in the highly endemic triploid sea lavender Limonium dufourii (Plumbaginaceae). Mol Ecol 16:3814–3827PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Peakall R, Smouse PE (2006) GENALEX 6: genetic analysis in Excel. Population genetic software for teaching and research. Mol Ecol Notes 6:288–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pritchard JK, Stephens M, Donnelly P (2000) Inference of population structure using multilocus genotype data. Genetics 155:945–959PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Reed DH, Frankham R (2003) Correlation between fitness and genetic diversity. Conserv Biol 17:230–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schoen DJ, Brown AHD (2001) The conservation of wild plant species in seed banks. Bioscience 51:960–966CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Segarra-Moragues JG, Catalán P (2010) The fewer and the better: prioritization of populations for conservation under limited resources, a study with Borderea pyrenaica (Dioscoreaceae) in the Pyrenean National Park. Genetica 138:363–376PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Suc JP (1984) Origin and evolution of the Mediterranean vegetation and climate in Europe. Nature 307:428–429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. USDA, NRCS (2010) The PLANTS database. National Plant Data Center, Baton RougeGoogle Scholar
  46. van der Maarel E, van der Maarel-Versluys M (1996) Distribution and conservation status of littoral vascular plant species along the European coasts. J Coast Conserv 2:73–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. vanden Berghen C (1964) Notes sur la végétation du sud-ouest de la France I: la végétation des dunes mobiles. Bull Jard Bot État Bruxelles 34:519–525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vandepitte K, Jacquemyn H, Roldán-Ruiz I, Honnay O (2007) Landscape genetics of the self-compatible forest herb Geum urbanum: effects of habitat age, fragmentation and local environment. Mol Ecol 16:4171–4179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Vandepitte K, Gristina A, Meekers T, de Hert K, Roldan-Ruiz I, Honnay O (2012) Recolonization after habitat restoration leads to decreased genetic variation in populations of a terrestrial orchid. Mol Ecol (in press). doi:  10.1111/j.1365-294X.2012.05698.x
  50. Vekemans X (2002) AFLPsurv version 1.0: a program for genetic diversity analysis with AFLP (and RAPD) population data. Laboratoire de Génétique et Ecologie végétales, Université Libre de BruxellesGoogle Scholar
  51. Vergeer P, Rengelink R, Copal A, Ouborg NJ (2003) The interacting effects of genetic variation, habitat quality and population size on performance of Succisa pratensis. J Ecol 91:18–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Vos P, Hogers R, Bleeker M et al (1995) AFLP—a new technique for DNA-fingerprinting. Nucleic Acids Res 3:4407–4414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Waples RS (1995) Evolutionarily significant units and the conservation of biological diversity under the Endangered Species Act. Am Fish Society Symp 17:8–27Google Scholar
  54. Weber E, D’Antonio CM (1999) Phenotypic plasticity in hybridizing Carpobrotus ssp. (Aizoaceae) from coastal California and its role in plant invasion. Canad J Bot 77:1411–1418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wright S (1938) Size of population and breeding structure in relation to evolution. Science 87:430–431Google Scholar
  56. Young A, Boyle T, Brown A (1996) The population genetic consequences of habitat fragmentation for plants. Trends Ecol Evol 11:413–418PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Zhivotovsky LA (1999) Estimating population structure in diploids with multilocus dominant DNA markers. Mol Ecol 8:907–913PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. Vandepitte
    • 1
  • A. S. Gristina
    • 2
  • R. De Raedt
    • 1
  • I. Roldán-Ruiz
    • 3
  • C. Marcenò
    • 4
  • S. Sciandrello
    • 5
  • O. Honnay
    • 1
  1. 1.Plant Conservation and Population Biology, Biology DepartmentUniversity of LeuvenHeverleeBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Agro-Environmental SystemsUniversity of PalermoPalermoItaly
  3. 3.Plant Sciences Unit–Growth and DevelopmentInstitute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research ILVOMelleBelgium
  4. 4.Jardín Botánico Atlantico, University of Oviedo IndurotGijonSpain
  5. 5.Department of BotanyUniversity of CataniaCataniaItaly

Personalised recommendations