Diverse spore rains and limited local exchange shape fern genetic diversity in a recently created habitat colonized by long-distance dispersal

G. A. De Groot*, H. J. During, S. W. Ansell, H. Schneider, P. Bremer, E. R. J. Wubs, J. W. Maas, H. Korpelainen, R. H. J. Erkens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Populations established by long-distance colonization are expected to show low levels of genetic variation per population, but strong genetic differentiation among populations. Whether isolated populations indeed show this genetic signature of isolation depends on the amount and diversity of diaspores arriving by long-distance dispersal, and time since colonization. For ferns, however, reliable estimates of long-distance dispersal rates remain largely unknown, and previous studies on fern population genetics often sampled older or non-isolated populations. Young populations in recent, disjunct habitats form a useful study system to improve our understanding of the genetic impact of long-distance dispersal.

Microsatellite markers were used to analyse the amount and distribution of genetic diversity in young populations of four widespread calcicole ferns (Asplenium scolopendrium, diploid; Asplenium trichomanes subsp. quadrivalens, tetraploid; Polystichum setiferum, diploid; and Polystichum aculeatum, tetraploid), which are rare in The Netherlands but established multiple populations in a forest (the Kuinderbos) on recently reclaimed Dutch polder land following long-distance dispersal. Reference samples from populations throughout Europe were used to assess how much of the existing variation was already present in the Kuinderbos.

A large part of the Dutch and European genetic diversity in all four species was already found in the Kuinderbos. This diversity was strongly partitioned among populations. Most populations showed low genetic variation and high inbreeding coefficients, and were assigned to single, unique gene pools in cluster analyses. Evidence for interpopulational gene flow was low, except for the most abundant species.

The results show that all four species, diploids as well as polyploids, were capable of frequent long-distance colonization via single-spore establishment. This indicates that even isolated habitats receive dense and diverse spore rains, including genotypes capable of self-fertilization. Limited gene flow may conserve the genetic signature of multiple long-distance colonization events for several decades.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)965-978
Number of pages14
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


  • Asplenium scolopendrium L
  • Asplenium trichomanes subsp
  • quadrivalens
  • colonization
  • founder effects
  • gene flow
  • microsatellites
  • multiple colonization events
  • Polystichum setiferum
  • Polystichum aculeatum
  • population differentiation
  • population genetics
  • selfing


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