Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 1351–1361 | Cite as

Patterns of genetic variation in Colchicum autumnale L. and its conservation status in Ireland: a broader perspective on local plant conservation

  • Rhian Jane Smith
  • Stephen Waldren
Research Article


Colchicum autumnale L. (Colchicaceae) is classed as an endangered plant species in Ireland, with a highly localised distribution centred on the Nore Valley in the southeast. The high resolution Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism genetic fingerprinting technique was used to clarify a question over the native status of the species and to assess its Irish conservation status through comparison with populations throughout northwestern Europe. The analysis of 20 populations with three selective primer pairs yielded 155 markers, 90% of which displayed polymorphism. Allele frequency was estimated using a Bayesian approach and based on this, total gene diversity (Ht) was 0.305 and mean within-population gene diversity (Hw) was 0.142. Irish populations contain comparatively moderate levels of genetic diversity and are unlikely to be susceptible to the deleterious effects of inbreeding depression. Analysis of Molecular Variance revealed that populations were significantly differentiated, with 68% of variation partitioned among populations and 32% within. Neighbour-joining and ordination analyses revealed a major biogeographic division between populations, suggesting that post-glacial migration in northwest Europe was driven from at least two separate glacial refugia and that the re-colonisation of Britain and Ireland is likely to have occurred via a western seaboard route from an Iberian glacial refugium. The total evidence points to C. autumnale being a native component of the Irish flora and its endangered IUCN (World Conservation Union) country status should therefore make it a priority for national conservation efforts. The study illustrates the point that a broader geographical perspective is fundamental to the assessment of the conservation status of regionally threatened plant species.


Conservation genetics AFLP Colchicum autumnale Native status Post-glacial migration Iberian refugium 



This work formed part of a PhD funded by National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS, formerly Dúchas, the Heritage Service) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD). The European sampling of populations was made possible with a grant from the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI). Thanks to Tom Curtis for field expertise and supervision, Trevor Hodkinson (TCD) for lab guidance, and to John Parker (University of Cambridge) for his valuable comments and insight as external examiner. Thanks also to Clive Jermy (BSBI), Rob Canning, Julie Smith, Hugh Smith, Sally McSweeney, Richard Nairn, Michael Tennyson, Joseph Teesdale, George Dyer, Kevin and Louise Barnes, Walter Walsh, Padraic Comerford (NPWS), Lorcan Scott (NPWS), Isabelle Diana (Jardin Botanique de l’Université et de la Ville, Besançon), José Daniel Gòmez Garcia (Instituto Pirenaico de Ecología), Max Debussche (Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive/Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Romaric Pierrel (Conservatoire et Jardins Botanique de Nancy), Mikel Lorda, Pedro-Uribe Echebaria, Frederic Bioret (Université de Bretagne Occidentale), Julian Woodman (Countryside Council for Wales), Clive Falkner (Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust), Gwent Wildlife Trust, David Northcote-Wright (Somerset Wildlife Trust), Hanson Aggregates and BSBI V.C. recorders: H. J. M. Bowen, Trevor Evans, Stephen Evans, Dave Green, Jean Green, Quentin Kay, Mark Kitchen, Clare Kitchen and Marjorie Wainwright.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BotanyTrinity CollegeDublin 2Ireland
  2. 2.Royal Botanic Gardens, KewRichmond, SurreyUK
  3. 3.Trinity College Botanic GardenDartry, Dublin 6Ireland

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