Exploring the impact of neutral evolution on intrapopulation genetic differentiation in functional traits in a long-lived plant

J. A. Ramírez-Valiente, F. Valladares, I. Aranda

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23 Scopus citations


Most plant species, particularly long-lived plants, harbor a large amount of genetic variation within populations. A central issue in evolutionary ecology is to explore levels of genetic variation and understand the mechanisms that influence them. In this study, our goals were to examine the impact of neutral evolutionary processes on the genetic variance and functional diversity within three populations of a long-lived plant (Quercus suber L.). For this purpose, we genotyped the progeny of 45 open-pollinated mother trees from three populations originating from Spain, Portugal, and Morocco using six microsatellite markers. Seedlings were planted in a common garden trial and were phenotypically characterized by seven leaf functional traits. Molecular analyses revealed weak genetic differences between Iberian and Moroccan populations. Nevertheless, high genetic differentiation was observed among maternal families within populations. Differentiation between particular maternal families from the same population reached values of 29.2 %, which far exceeds the values reported between the most genetically distant populations for this species (11.7 %). Maternal families differed also in phenology, leaf size, and shape traits. In the Moroccan population, there were correlations among matrices of distances for molecular markers, leaf shape traits (e.g., leaf circularity index), and phenology, indicating that maternal families with contrasting phenologies were genetically and functionally distinct. This, together with the moderate heritability for phenology in Moroccan population, suggests that besides selective forces, neutral evolutionary processes have promoted intrapopulation genetic divergence and contribute to maintain high levels of genetic variation within this population. Overall, our results reinforce the importance of intrapopulation studies in long-lived plants under an evolutionary context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1181-1190
Number of pages10
JournalTree Genetics and Genomes
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014


  • Assortative mating
  • Genetic diversity
  • Leaf shape
  • Phenotypic traits
  • Population divergence
  • Quercus


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