Post-glacial evolution of Panicum virgatum: centers of diversity and gene pools revealed by SSR markers and cpDNA sequences
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Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), a central and Eastern USA native, is highly valued as a component in tallgrass prairie and savanna restoration and conservation projects and a potential bioenergy feedstock. The purpose of this study was to identify regional diversity, gene pools, and centers-of-diversity of switchgrass to gain an understanding of its post-glacial evolution and to identify both the geographic range and potential overlap between functional gene pools. We sampled a total of 384 genotypes from 49 accessions that included the three main taxonomic groups of switchgrass (lowland 4x, upland 4x, and upland 8x) along with one accession possessing an intermediate phenotype. We identified primary centers of diversity for switchgrass in the eastern and western Gulf Coast regions. Migration, drift, and selection have led to adaptive radiation in switchgrass, creating regional gene pools within each of the main taxa. We estimate that both upland-lowland divergence and 4x-to-8x polyploidization within switchgrass began approximately 1.5–1 M ybp and that subsequent ice age cycles have resulted in gene flow between ecotype lineages and between ploidy levels. Gene flow has resulted in “hot spots” of genetic diversity in the southeastern USA and along the Atlantic Seaboard.