Population loss due to habitat disturbance is a major concern in biodiversity conservation. Here we investigate the genetic causes of the demographic decline observed in English populations of P ulsatilla vulgaris and the consequences for conservation. Using ten nuclear microsatellite markers, we compare genetic variation in wild populations with restored and seed-regenerated populations (674 samples). Emergence of genetic structure and loss of allelic variation in natural populations is not as evident as expected from demographic trends. Restored populations show genetic variation comparable to their source populations and, in general, to the wild ones. Genetic homogeneity is observed in regeneration trials, although some alleles not captured in source populations are detected. We infer that polyploidy, longevity and clonal reproduction have provided P. vulgaris with the standing genetic variation necessary to make the species resilient to the effects of demographic decline, suggesting that the use of multiple sources for reintroduction may be beneficial to mimic natural gene flow and the availability of multiple allele copies typical of polyploid species.
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