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Front. Genet. | doi: 10.3389/fgene.2019.01090

Anthropogenic disturbances eroding the genetic diversity of a threatened palm tree: a multi-scale approach

 Leiza A. Soares1,  Eliana Cazetta1, Larissa R. Santos1, Daniele d. França1 and  Fernanda A. Gaiotto1*
  • 1Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Brazil

Habitat loss and the illegal exploitation of natural resources are among the main drivers of species extinction around the world. These disturbances act at different scales, once changes in the landscape composition and configuration operate at large scales and exploitation of natural resources at local scales. Evidence suggests that both scales are capable of triggering genetic erosion in the remaining populations. However, most of the studies so far did not evaluate simultaneously the effects of these disturbances on genetic diversity and structure of plants. In this study, we used a multiple scale approach to empirically evaluate the impacts caused by local and landscape scale disturbances in the genetic diversity and structure of an endangered palm tree, Euterpe edulis. We sampled and genotyped with microsatellite markers 544 juveniles of E. edulis in 17 fragments of Atlantic Forest in Brazil. In addition, we estimated the local logging rate and the forest cover and isolation at landscape scale. We found that the palm populations have not undergone any recent bottleneck events and that only logging intensification had affected the fixation index and the number of private alleles. Additionally, we did not detect any evidence of spatial genetic structure or genetic divergence associated with environmental disturbance variables at different scales. However, we identified distinct genetic clusters, which may indicate a reduction of gene flow between fragments that were previously a continuous habitat. Our results show that local disturbances, which act directly on population size reduction, such as logging, modified the genetic diversity more rapidly, whereas genetic structure is probably more influenced by large-scale modifications. In this way, to maximize the conservation efforts of economically exploited species, we recommend increasing the inspection to reduce the illegal exploitation, and reforestation of degraded areas, in order to increase the gene flow in Atlantic Forest fragments.

Keywords: landscape genetics, tropical rainforest, conservation, Threatened species, molecular marker

Received: 01 Jul 2019; Accepted: 09 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Soares, Cazetta, Santos, França and Gaiotto. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Fernanda A. Gaiotto, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Ilhéus, 45662-900, Bahia, Brazil,