Background and aims
Aster pyrenaeus (Asteraceae) is an endangered species, endemic to the Pyrenees and Cantabrian Mountain ranges (Spain). For its long-term persistence, this taxon needs an appropriate conservation strategy to be implemented. In this context, we studied the genetic structure over the entire geographical range of the species and then inferred the genetic relationships between populations.
Molecular diversity was analysed for 290 individuals from 12 populations in the Pyrenees and the Cantabrian Mountains using inter simple sequence repeats (ISSRs). Bayesian-based analysis was applied to examine population structure.
Analysis of genetic similarity and diversity, based on 87 polymorphic ISSR markers, suggests that despite being small and isolated, populations have an intermediate genetic diversity level (P % = 52.8 %, HE = 0.21 ± 0.01, genetic similarity between individuals = 49.6 %). Genetic variation was mainly found within populations (80–84 %), independently of mountain ranges, whereas 16–18 % was found between populations and <5 % between mountain ranges. Analyses of molecular variance indicated that population differentiation was highly significant. However, no significant correlation was found between the genetic and geographical distances among populations (Rs = 0.359, P = 0.140). Geographical structure based on assignment tests identified five different gene pools that were independent of any particular structure in the landscape.
The results suggest that population isolation is probably relatively recent, and that the outbreeding behaviour of the species maintains a high within-population genetic diversity. We assume that some long-distance dispersal, even among topographically remote populations, may be determinant for the pattern of genetic variation found in populations. Based on these findings, strategies are proposed for genetic conservation and management of the species.