Open Access Research article

Genetic structure and seed-mediated dispersal rates of an endangered shrub in a fragmented landscape: a case study for Juniperus communis in northwestern Europe

An Vanden-Broeck1*, Robert Gruwez2, Karen Cox1, Sandy Adriaenssens2, Inga M Michalczyk3 and Kris Verheyen2

Author Affiliations

1 Research Institute for Nature and Forest, Geraardsbergen, Belgium

2 Laboratory of Forestry, Ghent University, Melle-Gontrode, Belgium

3 Mobile DNAnalyse, Ebsdorfergrund, Germany

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BMC Genetics 2011, 12:73  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-12-73

Published: 22 August 2011



Population extinction risk in a fragmented landscape is related to the differential ability of the species to spread its genes across the landscape. The impact of landscape fragmentation on plant population dynamics will therefore vary across different spatial scales. We quantified successful seed-mediated dispersal of the dioecious shrub Juniperus communis in a fragmented landscape across northwestern Europe by using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers. Furthermore we investigated the genetic diversity and structure on two spatial scales: across northwestern Europe and across Flanders (northern Belgium). We also studied whether seed viability and populations size were correlated with genetic diversity.


Unexpectedly, estimated seed-mediated dispersal rates were quite high and ranged between 3% and 14%. No population differentiation and no spatial genetic structure were detected on the local, Flemish scale. A significant low to moderate genetic differentiation between populations was detected at the regional, northwest European scale (PhiPT = 0.10). In general, geographically nearby populations were also genetically related. High levels of within-population genetic diversity were detected but no correlation was found between any genetic diversity parameter and population size or seed viability.


In northwestern Europe, landscape fragmentation has lead to a weak isolation-by-distance pattern but not to genetic impoverishment of common juniper. Substantial rates of successful migration by seed-mediated gene flow indicate a high dispersal ability which could enable Juniperus communis to naturally colonize suitable habitats. However, it is not clear whether the observed levels of migration will suffice to counterbalance the effects of genetic drift in small populations on the long run.