Genetic variation of Saxifraga paniculata Mill. (Saxifragaceae): molecular evidence for glacial relict endemism in central Europe
Saxifraga paniculata Mill. is an amphi-atlantic species that is widely distributed in the Alps but also occurs with disjunct populations in central Europe. These isolated populations are considered to be glacial relicts. In the study presented here, we analysed the genetic variation within and between populations of Saxifraga paniculata in central Europe to test whether the molecular data give evidence for the supposed relict endemism. We used RAPD analysis and the analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) technique to investigate 30 populations of Saxifraga paniculata from different locations in central Europe and adjacent geographical areas. In the RAPD analysis, 319 fragments could be amplified of which 91.2% were polymorphic. The percentage of polymorphic bands within populations correlated significantly with population size, indicating a higher level of inbreeding in small populations. AMOVA revealed 43.60% of the variation within populations, only 15.45% between populations within locations, and 40.95% between locations. Genetic distance between locations (ΦST) correlated significantly with the geographical distance between locations, giving evidence for geographical isolation. In an UPGMA cluster analysis, based on RAPD data, the populations were grouped together according to their location. The results exhibit a strong genetic differentiation which is obviously due to genetic drift in the isolated populations. Our study therefore gives evidence for glacial relict endemism of Saxifraga paniculata in central Europe. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 80, 11–21.