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Understanding the genetic diversity of the guayabillo (Psidium galapageium), an endemic plant of the Galapagos Islands

Urquia, Diego, Pozo, Gabriela, Gutierrez, Bernardo, Rowntree, Jennifer K and de Lourdes Torres, Maria (2020) Understanding the genetic diversity of the guayabillo (Psidium galapageium), an endemic plant of the Galapagos Islands. Global Ecology and Conservation. ISSN 2351-9894 (In Press)

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Oceanic archipelagos are known to host a variety of endemic plant species. The genetic diversity and structure of these species is an important indicator of their evolutionary history and can inform appropriate conservation strategies that mitigate the risks to which they’re exposed, including invasive species and environmental disturbances. A comprehensive consideration of the role of their natural history, as well as the landscape features and the geological history of the islands themselves is required to adequately understand any emerging patterns. Such is the case for the guayabillo (<jats:italic>Psidium galapageium</jats:italic>), an understudied endemic plant from the Galapagos Islands with important ecological and economic roles. In this study we designed and evaluated 13 informative SSR markers and used them to investigate the genetic diversity, population structure and connectivity of the guayabillo populations from San Cristobal, Isabela and Santa Cruz islands. A total of 208 guayabillo individuals were analyzed, revealing a strong population structure between islands and two distinct genetic lineages for the Santa Cruz population. Overall, the guayabillo genetic diversity is relatively high, an unusual pattern for an insular endemic species which is possibly explained by its polyploidy and the geographical features of the islands. These include their broad altitudinal ranges and habitat heterogeneity. For populations displaying a lower genetic diversity such as San Cristobal, the history of human disturbance could be an important factor explaining these observations. Some similarities between individuals in Santa Cruz and the San Cristobal population could be explained by population differentiation or distinct natural histories of separate lineages. Our findings highlight the complex population dynamics that shape the genetic diversity of species like the guayabillo and emphasize the need to explore the currently unresolved questions about this Galapagos endemic plant.

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