Genetic structuring of remnant forest patches in an endangered medicinal tree in North-western Ethiopia
Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, 170 Kessels Road, Nathan QLD 4111, Australia
BMC Genetics 2014, 15:31 doi:10.1186/1471-2156-15-31Published: 6 March 2014
Habitat loss and fragmentation may have detrimental impacts on genetic diversity, population structure and overall viability of tropical trees. The response of tropical trees to fragmentation processes may, however, be species, cohort or region-specific. Here we test the hypothesis that forest fragmentation is associated with lower genetic variability and higher genetic differentiation in adult and seedling populations of Prunus africana in North-western Ethiopia. This is a floristically impoverished region where all but a few remnant forest patches have been destroyed, mostly by anthropogenic means.
Genetic diversity (based on allelic richness) was significantly greater in large and less-isolated forest patches as well as in adults than seedlings. Nearly all pairwise FST comparisons showed evidence for significant population genetic differentiation. Mean FST values were significantly greater in seedlings than adults, even after correction for within population diversity, but varied little with patch size or isolation.
Analysis of long-lived adult trees suggests the formerly contiguous forest in North-western Ethiopia probably exhibited strong spatial patterns of genetic structure. This means that protecting a range of patches including small and isolated ones is needed to conserve the extant genetic resources of the valuable forests in this region. However, given the high livelihood dependence of the local community and the high impact of foreign investors on forest resources of this region, in situ conservation efforts alone may not be helpful. Therefore, these efforts should be supported with ex situ gene conservation actions.