Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

ISSR and AFLP analysis of the temporal and spatial population structure of the post-fire annual, Nicotiana attenuata, in SW Utah

Rahul A Bahulikar2, Dominic Stanculescu1, Catherine A Preston3 and Ian T Baldwin1*

Author Affiliations

1 Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Dept of Molecular Ecology, Hans Knöll Strasse 8, Beutenberg Campus, 07745 Jena Germany

2 Fachbereich Biologie, Universität Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

3 USDA-ARS CMAVE, 1600/1700 SW 23rd Drive, Gainesville, FL 32608 USA

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BMC Ecology 2004, 4:12  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-4-12

Published: 6 September 2004



The native annual tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata, is found primarily in large ephemeral populations (typically for less than 3 growing seasons) after fires in sagebrush and pinyon-juniper ecosystems and in small persistent populations (for many growing seasons) in isolated washes typically along roadsides throughout the Great Basin Desert of the SW USA. This distribution pattern is due to its unusual germination behavior. Ephemeral populations are produced by the germination of dormant seeds from long-lived seed banks which are stimulated to germinate by a combination of unidentified positive cues found in wood smoke and the removal of inhibitors leached from the unburned litter of the dominant vegetation. Persistent populations may result where these inhibitors do not exist, as in washes or along disturbed roadsides. To determine if this germination behavior has influenced population structure, we conducted an AFLP (244 individuals), ISSR (175 individuals) and ISSR+ AFLP (175 individuals) analysis on plants originating from seed collected from populations growing in 11 wash and burns over 11 years from the SW USA.


Genetic variance as measured by both ISSR and AFLP markers was low among sites and comparatively higher within populations. Cluster analysis of the Utah samples with samples collected from Arizona, California, and Oregon as out-groups also did not reveal patterns. AMOVA analysis of the combined AFLP and ISSR data sets yielded significantly low genetic differentiation among sites (Φct), moderate among populations within sites (Φsc) and higher genetic differentiation within populations (Φst).


We conclude that the seed dormancy of this post-fire annual and its resulting age structure in conjunction with natural selection processes are responsible for significantly low among sites and comparatively high within-population genetic variation observed in this species.