Effect of habitat fragmentation on levels and patterns of genetic diversity in natural populations of the peat moss Polytrichum commune

Pamela J. Wilson, Jim Provan

Abstract

Peat bogs represent unique ecosystems that are under particular threat from fragmentation due to peat harvesting, with only 38% of the original peatland in Europe remaining intact and unaffected by peat cutting, drainage and silviculture. In this study, we have used microsatellite markers to determine levels and patterns of genetic diversity in both cut and uncut natural populations of the peat moss Polytrichum commune. Overall diversity levels suggest that there is more genetic variation present than had previously been assumed for bryophytes. Despite this, diversity values from completely cut bogs were found to be lower than those from uncut peatlands (average 0.729 versus 0.880). In addition, the genetic diversity was more highly structured in the cut populations, further suggesting that genetic drift is already affecting genetic diversity in peat bogs subjected to fragmentation.