Evolutionary Processes and Spatial Genetic Variation in Euphrasia stricta on the Baltic Island of Gotland

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: The identification of processes governing genetic structure at different spatial scales remains a major challenge in evolutionary biology and is of considerable applied interest in conservation biology. In Euphrasia stricta five varieties have been identified (brevipila, gotlandica, stricta, suecica and tenuis) based on differences in habitat, phenology and morphology. In this thesis, I examined genetic variation at AFLP and microsatellite marker loci in relation to variation in habitat and morphology within and among varieties of E. stricta on the island Gotland in the Baltic Sea. The results are discussed in relation to evolutionary processes acting within this species complex. In a study conducted at the regional scale, the two early-flowering varieties suecica and tenuis each formed a genetically distinct group, while the three late-flowering varieties brevipila, gotlandica and stricta formed a third group. The results suggest that suecica and tenuis have ancient origins since they are genetically different both from the brevipila/gotlandica/stricta group and from each other despite their similar habitat preferences. This pattern was obtained using both marker systems. Discrepancies between AFLP and microsatellites were found in patterns of isolation by distance and in estimates of expected heterozygosity, He.Focusing on the mixed genetic group brevipila/gotlandica/stricta and the causes behind their clustering together despite differences in morphology and habitat preferences, I performed a study at a smaller geographic scale. Studying a population of E. stricta I found that, although gene flow within the population was strong, it had not prevented the formation of genetic groups associated with micro-habitat properties. An important result for conservation of the rare variety suecica is its distinct genetic separation from variety tenuis. If the aim of conservation is to preserve the uniqueness of suecica, the two varieties should be treated as separated entities.