Genetic diversity and structure in two species of Leavenworthia with self-incompatible and self-compatible populations

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Self-fertilization is a common mating system in plants and is known to reduce genetic diversity, increase genetic structure and potentially put populations at greater risk of extinction. In this study, we measured the genetic diversity and structure of two cedar glade endemic species, Leavenworthia alabamica and L. crassa. These species have self-incompatible (SI) and self-compatible (SC) populations and are therefore ideal for understanding how the mating system affects genetic diversity and structure. We found that L. alabamica and L. crassa had high species-level genetic diversity (He=0.229 and 0.183, respectively) and high genetic structure among their populations (FST=0.45 and 0.36, respectively), but that mean genetic diversity was significantly lower in SC compared with SI populations (SC vs SI, He for L. alabamica was 0.065 vs 0.206 and for L. crassa was 0.084 vs 0.189). We also found significant genetic structure using maximum-likelihood clustering methods. These data indicate that the loss of SI leads to the loss of genetic diversity within populations. In addition, we examined genetic distance relationships between SI and SC populations to analyze possible population history and origins of self-compatibility. We find there may have been multiple origins of self-compatibility in L. alabamica and L. crassa. However, further work is required to test this hypothesis. Finally, given their high genetic structure and that individual populations harbor unique alleles, conservation strategies seeking to maximize species-level genetic diversity for these or similar species should protect multiple populations.