Chloroplast phylogeography of threatened aquatic Oxalis (Oxalidaceae): Significant inter-population structure, divergent haplotypes and conservation implications
The aquatic lineage consisting of the sister taxa Oxalis dines and O. disticha is confined to a few small vernal pools in the semi-arid Greater Cape Floristic Region of South Africa. All known populations are at risk of extinction due to anthropogenically induced disturbance. To identify priority sites for focused conservation management, the chloroplast intergenic spacer regions psbA-trnH and trnS-trnG were used to determine population structure and genetic diversity in this lineage across its distribution range. Population viability was assessed using flower morph ratios as surrogate for sexual health. Fourteen and four haplotypes were identified from O. disticha and O. dines populations, respectively. Analyses of Molecular Variance indicated an extremely high level of interpopulation differentiation across the entire aquatic lineage as well as within O. disticha and O. dines. Fifty percent of the eighteen haplotypes were confined to single pools, and 84% of populations contained only a single haplotype, even though pool interspacing distance for O. disticha was often less than 5 km. Almost half of O. disticha haplotype diversity was restricted to very small populations. Two O. dines haplotypes were restricted to small populations, with one of these presenting a divergent haplotype sister to the remainder of the aquatic lineage. Flower morph frequency ratio analyses suggested that most populations were reproductively healthy. Low haplotypic diversity within local populations and differentiation between populations are consistent with very low seed-level gene flow and sporadic founder effects. Conservation efforts should be focussed on preserving as many pools as possible with small, genetically distinct populations representing a main concern. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.