Spatial and temporal patterns of population genetic diversity in the fynbos plant, Leucadendron salignum, in the Cape Floral Region of South Africa

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The Cape Floral Region (CFR) in southwestern South Africa is one of the most diverse in the world, with >9,000 plant species, 70% of which are endemic, in an area

The Cape Floral Region (CFR) in southwestern South Africa is one of the most diverse in the world, with >9,000 plant species, 70% of which are endemic, in an area of only ~90,000 km2. Many have suggested that the CFR's heterogeneous environment, with respect to landscape gradients, vegetation, rainfall, elevation, and soil fertility, is responsible for the origin and maintenance of this biodiversity. While studies have struggled to link species diversity with these features, no study has attempted to associate patterns of gene flow with environmental data to determine how CFR biodiversity evolves on different scales. Here, a molecular population genetic data is presented for a widespread CFR plant, Leucadendron salignum, across 51 locations with 5-kb of chloroplast (cpDNA) and 6-kb of unlinked nuclear (nuDNA) DNA sequences in a dataset of 305 individuals. In the cpDNA dataset, significant genetic structure was found to vary on temporal and spatial scales, separating Western and Eastern Capes - the latter of which appears to be recently derived from the former - with the highest diversity in the heart of the CFR in a central region. A second study applied a statistical model using vegetation and soil composition and found fine-scale genetic divergence is better explained by this landscape resistance model than a geographic distance model. Finally, a third analysis contrasted cpDNA and nuDNA datasets, and revealed very little geographic structure in the latter, suggesting that seed and pollen dispersal can have different evolutionary genetic histories of gene flow on even small CFR scales. These three studies together caution that different genomic markers need to be considered when modeling the geographic and temporal origin of CFR groups. From a greater perspective, the results here are consistent with the hypothesis that landscape heterogeneity is one driving influence in limiting gene flow across the CFR that can lead to species diversity on fine-scales. Nonetheless, while this pattern may be true of the widespread L. salignum, the extension of this approach is now warranted for other CFR species with varying ranges and dispersal mechanisms to determine how universal these patterns of landscape genetic diversity are.