The influence of historical geneflow, bathymetry and distribution patterns on the population genetics of morphologically diverse Galápagos **Opuntiaechios**
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
Journal of molecular evolution. - Berlin
, p. 315-325
University of Antwerp
Throughout history, remote archipelagos have repeatedly been designated natural laboratories to study evolutionary processes. The extensive, geographically structured, morphological variation within Galápagos Opuntia cacti has been presumed to be another example of how such processes shape diversity. However, recent genetic studies on speciation and potential effects of plasticity within this system failed to confirm earlier classification and hypothesized radiation on both global and single island levels. Detailed population genetic information, however, is crucial in conserving these semi-arid ecosystem keystone species. In this article, we re-evaluate the genetics of Opuntia echios inhabiting one of the most taxon rich places on the archipelago: Santa Cruz and its surrounding satellite islands, using microsatellite data. Our analysis revealed high genetic variability within all sampled locations, providing little support for the hypothesis of clonal reproduction. Inter-island gene flow patterns appear to be largely influenced by bathymetry and sea levels during last ice ages. Although O. echios from Seymour Norte are morphologically recognized as being a separate taxon, Daphné Majors cacti are the most differentiated. In addition, we found a potential barrier for gene flow along the ring-like distribution of Opuntias at the western side of Santa Cruz, suggesting potential links with geology.