An understanding of the processes that determine the observed patterns of genetic variation in natural plant populations is an important factor in the management of biodiversity. Pollen-mediated gene dispersal is recognized as a major determinant of population genetic structure. Here, the utility of simple sequence repeat (SSR) analysis was investigated for the measurement of pollen-mediated gene transfer by paternity exclusion in a restricted, fragmented and endangered population of the insect-pollinated tropical leguminous tree Gliricidia sepium located in Guatemala. Data at a single SSR locus, which revealed six allelic variants, were employed to generate minimum distance curves of pollen dispersal. Combined data from all six alleles indicated that a minimum of 1.8% of transfer events occurred over a distance of greater than 75 m. However, this value represents an underestimate because of the exclusion approach employed for analysis. Considering the four rarest alleles in the population only (combined frequency = 0.196), which provides a less biased indicator of gene transfer, a minimum of 6.1% of pollen movements could be attributed to greater than 75 m. One extreme example of gene transfer of over 275 m was recorded. Estimates of pollen transfer suggest a homogenizing effect on genetic structure over the spatial scale of the study population and provide an important indicator for the genetic management of natural and exotic stands of G. sepium. This study provides the first example of SSR analysis being employed to estimate directly pollen movement in a natural stand of any tree species.
Molecular Ecology (1997) 6 (2) 179-183 [DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-294X.1997.00163.x]