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Genetic variation and structure in remnant population of critically endangered Melicope zahlbruckneri

December 1, 2016

The distribution and amount of genetic variation within and between populations of plant species are important for their adaptability to future habitat changes and also critical for their restoration and overall management. This study was initiated to assess the genetic status of the remnant population of Melicope zahlbruckneri–a critically endangered species in Hawaii, and determine the extent of genetic variation and diversity in order to propose valuable conservation approaches. Estimated genetic structure of individuals based on molecular marker allele frequencies identified genetic groups with low overall differentiation but identified the most genetically diverse individuals within the population. Analysis of Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphic (AFLP) marker loci in the population based on Bayesian model and multivariate statistics classified the population into four subgroups. We inferred a mixed species population structure based on Bayesian clustering and frequency of unique alleles. The percentage of Polymorphic Fragment (PPF) ranged from 18.8 to 64.6% for all marker loci with an average of 54.9% within the population. Inclusion of all surviving M. zahlbruckneri trees in future restorative planting at new sites are suggested, and approaches for longer term maintenance of genetic variability are discussed. To our knowledge, this study represents the first report of molecular genetic analysis of the remaining population of M. zahlbruckneri and also illustrates the importance of genetic variability for conservation of a small endangered population.