Open Access Open Badges Research article

High levels of effective long-distance dispersal may blur ecotypic divergence in a rare terrestrial orchid

An Vanden Broeck1*, Wouter Van Landuyt2, Karen Cox1, Luc De Bruyn23, Ralf Gyselings2, Gerard Oostermeijer4, Bertille Valentin5, Gregor Bozic6, Branko Dolinar7, Zoltán Illyés8 and Joachim Mergeay1

Author Affiliations

1 Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Gaverstraat 4, Geraardsbergen B-9500, Belgium

2 Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Kliniekstraat 25, Brussels B-1070, Belgium

3 Evolutionary Ecology, University of Antwerp, Groenenborgerlaan 171, Antwerpen 2020, Belgium

4 Instituut voor Biodiversiteit en Ecosysteem Dynamica (IBED), Universiteit van Amsterdam, Postbus 94248, Amsterdam 1090 GE, The Netherlands

5 Conservatoire Botanique National de Bailleul, Hameau de Haendries, Bailleul F- 59 270, France

6 Slovenian Forestry Institute, Vecna pot 2, Ljubljana SI-1000, Slovenia

7 Botanical Society of Slovenia, Izanska cesta 15, Ljubljana SI-1000, Slovenia

8 8900 Zalaegerszeg, Várberki u. 13, Hungary

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BMC Ecology 2014, 14:20  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-14-20

Published: 7 July 2014



Gene flow and adaptive divergence are key aspects of metapopulation dynamics and ecological speciation. Long-distance dispersal is hard to detect and few studies estimate dispersal in combination with adaptive divergence. The aim of this study was to investigate effective long-distance dispersal and adaptive divergence in the fen orchid (Liparis loeselii (L.) Rich.). We used amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP)-based assignment tests to quantify effective long-distance dispersal at two different regions in Northwest Europe. In addition, genomic divergence between fen orchid populations occupying two distinguishable habitats, wet dune slacks and alkaline fens, was investigated by a genome scan approach at different spatial scales (continental, landscape and regional) and based on 451 AFLP loci.


We expected that different habitats would contribute to strong divergence and restricted gene flow resulting in isolation-by-adaptation. Instead, we found remarkably high levels of effective long-distance seed dispersal and low levels of adaptive divergence. At least 15% of the assigned individuals likely originated from among-population dispersal events with dispersal distances up to 220 km. Six (1.3%) ‘outlier’ loci, potentially reflecting local adaptation to habitat-type, were identified with high statistical support. Of these, only one (0.22%) was a replicated outlier in multiple independent dune-fen population comparisons and thus possibly reflecting truly parallel divergence. Signals of adaptation in response to habitat type were most evident at the scale of individual populations.


The findings of this study suggest that the homogenizing effect of effective long-distance seed dispersal may overwhelm divergent selection associated to habitat type in fen orchids in Northwest Europe.