Conservation Genetics

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 1437–1448 | Cite as

Population genetic analysis reveals a predominantly selfing mating system and strong genetic structuring in a naturally fragmented, threatened plant

  • Christine E. EdwardsEmail author
  • Matthew A. Albrecht
  • Burgund Bassüner
  • George A. Yatskievych
Research Article


Conservation genetics studies not only provide information about genetic diversity and genetic structure to inform conservation strategies, they can also help infer life history characteristics such as mating system, pollinator, and seed dispersal strategy of a plant species. Here, we investigated Geocarpon (Mononeuria minima; Caryophyllaceae), an extremely diminutive, poorly known plant species from the south-central U.S. that is threatened due to high habitat specificity and habitat loss. The goals of this study were to use genetic data to help understand the basic attributes of the biology of Geocarpon, including mating system and the spatial extent of gene flow, how genetic variation is partitioned within and among populations and across the landscape, and how to protect that genetic variation. Most Geocarpon populations are highly homozygous and genetically homogenous, indicating a predominantly selfing mating system. Although the species maintains some allelic diversity, the majority of genetic variation was partitioned among populations, even in groups separated by small geographic distances (≥ 0.5 km), indicating very localized seed dispersal (gravity or water). Because genetic variation is structured at a fine scale, to conserve the full range of genetic diversity it is necessary to protect a large proportion of the populations of the species; we recommend protection of as many currently unprotected sites as possible, particularly in areas of the geographic range where few populations are protected, combined with ex situ conservation seed banking in sites that cannot be protected. This study illustrates how life history characteristics, particularly mating system, strongly influence patterns of genetic structure and can have major effects on the strategy to conserve genetic variation in an endangered species.


Caryophyllaceae Conservation genetics Genetic structure Geocarpon Glades Mating systems Microsatellites Saline slicks Self-fertilization 



We thank Jason Phillips for assistance with funding and field work. We thank Paul McKenzie (USFWS), Mike Skinner (MDC-retired), Brent Baker (ANHC), Meg Engelhardt (MOBOT), Jared Huxley (MOBOT), Malissa Briggler (MDC), Lorrie Shanks (MDC), Rhonda Rimer (MDC), Larry Rizzo (MDC), Bree McMurray (MODOT), Bruce Schutte (MO Prairie Foundation), Rodney Hendricks (USACE), Doug Ladd (MO-TNC), Theo Whitsell (ANHC), Cindy Osborne (ANHC), Beth Phillips (Fort Chaffee), Jason Singhurst (TPWD), and Chris Reid (Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries) for assistance with locality data, permitting, and field work. We thank Joel Swift for assistance with assistance with data analysis, Bill Duncan for providing photos of Geocarpon, and Jeremie Fant and two anonymous reviewers for comments on a previous version of the manuscript. This project was funded by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service grant agreement #F15AP00807.

Supplementary material

10592_2019_1226_MOESM1_ESM.docx (78 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 78 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Missouri Botanical GardenSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Billie L. Turner Plant Resources CenterUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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