Côrtes, Marina C., Uriarte, María, Lemes, Maristerra R., Gribel, Rogério, Kress, W. John, Smouse, Peter E., and Bruna, Emilio M. 2013. "Low plant density enhances gene dispersal in the Amazonian understory herb Heliconia acuminata." Molecular ecology 22 (22):5716-5729. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.12495
In theory, conservation genetics predicts that forest fragmentation will reduce gene dispersal, but in practice, genetic and ecological processes are also dependent on other population characteristics. We used Bayesian genetic analyses to characterize parentage and propagule dispersal in Heliconia acuminata L. C. Richard (Heliconiaceae), a common Amazonian understory plant that is pollinated and dispersed by birds. We studied these processes in two continuous forest sites and three 1-ha fragments in Brazil's Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project. These sites showed variation in the density of H. acuminata. Ten microsatellite markers were used to genotype flowering adults and seedling recruits and to quantify realized pollen and seed dispersal distances, immigration of propagules from outside populations, and reproductive dominance among parents. We tested whether gene dispersal is more dependent on fragmentation or density of reproductive plants. Low plant densities were associated with elevated immigration rates and greater propagule dispersal distances. Reproductive dominance among inside-plot parents was higher for low-density than for high-density populations. Elevated local flower and fruit availability is probably leading to spatially more proximal bird foraging and propagule dispersal in areas with high density of reproductive plants. Nevertheless, genetic diversity, inbreeding coefficients and fine-scale spatial genetic structure were similar across populations, despite differences in gene dispersal. This result may indicate that the opposing processes of longer dispersal events in low-density populations vs. higher diversity of contributing parents in high-density populations balance the resulting genetic outcomes and prevent genetic erosion in small populations and fragments.