High genetic diversity and population structure in the endangered Canarian endemic Ruta oreojasme (Rutaceae)
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Insular species are expected to have low genetic diversity, for their populations are often small and isolated, and characterized by restricted gene flow and increased incidence of inbreeding. However, empirical results do not always match this expectation. For example, population genetic analyses of several Canarian endemics, based mainly on allozymes, show levels of genetic diversity exceptionally high for insular species. To investigate whether genetic variation in rare species endemic to Canary Islands is low, as predicted by theoretical expectations, or high, as documented in some previous studies, we analysed genetic diversity of the endangered Ruta oreojasme, a rare endemic of the island of Gran Canaria, using microsatellite markers, which are more variable than allozymes. Our analyses identified very high levels of genetic diversity (A = 7.625, P = 0.984, Ho = 0.558, He = 0.687) for R. oreojasme. Even though the distribution of the species is restricted to the South of Gran Canaria, only one population shows low genetic diversity, isolation and signs of a recent bottleneck/founder event. Some intrinsic characteristics of R. oreojasme (hermaphroditism, proterandry and polyploidy), the relative climatic stability of the Canarian archipelago during Quaternary glacials/ interglacials, the size of most populations (thousands of individuals), its age, and the relative proximity of the archipelago to the mainland might have contributed to the high diversity that characterises this endemic. As expected, given the marked topographic complexity of Gran Canaria, we found marked genetic structure in R. oreojasme populations. Our results support the observation that Canarian endemics are characterised by unexpectedly high genetic diversity and provides important insights for potential applications to the conservation of R. oreojasme.