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Human-induced changes on fine-scale genetic structure in Ulmus laevis Pallas wetland forests at its SW distribution limit


Human activities have deeply transformed the Mediterranean landscape for millennia. Wetland and riverbed vegetation are among the most affected ecosystems because of the value of these areas for agriculture, due to their rich soil and water availability. This has caused the fragmentation, population reduction, and extinction of many species. We focus our study on Ulmus laevis Pallas, an endangered tree species in the Iberian Peninsula, as an extreme example of these formations. We study the diversity and fine-scale spatial genetic structure of two human disturbed wetland populations with chloroplast markers and nuclear microsatellites. We evaluate their recovery possibilities, and how they will be affected by future aridification and water table depletion. Our results show that although these populations have suffered bottlenecks and have low genetic diversity, they maintain the same diversity levels as the European populations. Despite the low genetic variation that could contribute to inbreeding problems in the future, we discuss that the main threat of the species is habitat destruction. Finally, we propose some management and conservation policies to ameliorate these effects.

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We would like to thank César Cardo, Alberto Pérez, and Julio Orellana for having shown us Valdelatas elm grove. We thank Segovia XXI for having allowed us collect samples in Quitapesares and helping us preserve this population. We thank Eudaldo González for the elm surveys, he has carried out all over Spain. We are also grateful to Salustiano Iglesias, Pablo Sanjuanbenito, and Cuenca Alta del Manzanares park managers for their support. We also show gratitude to Zaida Lorenzo, Elena Zafra, Eva Miranda, Jorge Domínguez, David Macaya, Gerrie Seket, Guillermo González, Miriam Fajardo, and Ana Moreno for their technical assistance and help. This study was financed by the Comunidad de Madrid (Project S2009AMB-1668). M.V. is sponsored by a PIF Grant from the Technical University of Madrid.

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Correspondence to Luis Gil.

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Carmen Collada and Luis Gil contributed equally to this study.

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Venturas, M., Fuentes-Utrilla, P., Ennos, R. et al. Human-induced changes on fine-scale genetic structure in Ulmus laevis Pallas wetland forests at its SW distribution limit. Plant Ecol 214, 317–327 (2013).

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  • Ulmus laevis
  • Spatial genetic structure
  • Endangered species
  • Conservation
  • Wetland forests
  • Management guidelines