Plant Systematics and Evolution vol:281 issue:1-4 pages:161-169
Parasite populations do not necessarily conform to expected patterns of genetic diversity and structure. Parasitic plants may be more vulnerable to the negative consequences of landscape fragmentation because of their specialized life history strategies and dependence on host plants, which are themselves susceptible to genetic erosion and reduced fitness following habitat change. We used AFLP genetic markers to investigate the effects of habitat fragmentation on genetic diversity and structure within and among populations of hemiparasitic Viscum album. Comparing populations from two landscapes differing in the amount of forest fragmentation allowed us to directly quantify habitat fragmentation effects. Populations from both landscapes exhibited significant isolation-by-distance and sex ratios biased towards females. The less severely fragmented landscape had larger and less isolated populations, resulting in lower levels of population genetic structure (F-ST = 0.05 vs. 0.09) and inbreeding (F-IS = 0.13 vs. 0.27). Genetic differentiation between host-tree subpopulations was also higher in the more fragmented landscape. We found no significant differences in within-population gene diversity, percentage of polymorphic loci, or molecular variance between the two regions, nor did we find relationships between genetic diversity measures and germination success. Our results indicate that increasing habitat fragmentation negatively affects population genetic structure and levels of inbreeding in V. album, with the degree of isolation among populations exerting a stronger influence than forest patch size.