Wall WA, Douglas NA, Hoffmann WA, Wentworth TR, Gray JB, Xiang Q-YJ, Knaus BK, Hohmann MG
Genetic factors such as decreased genetic diversity and increased homozygosity can have detrimental effects on rare species, and may ultimately limit potential adaptation and exacerbate population declines. The Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plain physiographic region has the second highest level of endemism in the continental USA, but habitat fragmentation and land use changes have resulted in catastrophic population declines for many species. Astragalus michauxii (Fabaceae) is an herbaceous plant endemic to the region that is considered vulnerable to extinction, with populations generally consisting of fewer than 20 individuals. We developed eight polymorphic microsatellites and genotyped 355 individuals from 24 populations. We characterized the population genetic diversity and structure, tested for evidence of past bottlenecks, and identified evidence of contemporary gene flow between populations. The mean ratios of the number of alleles to the allelic range (M ratio) across loci for A. michauxii populations were well below the threshold of 0.68 identified as indicative of a past genetic bottleneck. Genetic diversity estimates were similar across regions and populations, and comparable to other long-lived perennial species. Within-population genetic variation accounted for 92 % of the total genetic variation found in the species. Finally, there is evidence for contemporary gene flow among the populations in North Carolina. Although genetic factors can threaten rare species, maintaining habitats through prescribed burning, in concert with other interventions such as population augmentation or (re)introduction, are likely most critical to the long term survival of A. michauxii.