Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Limited effects of population age on the genetic structure of spatially isolated forest herb populations in temperate Europe

Huang, Siyu; Feigs, Jannis Till; Holzhauer, Stephanie I. J.; Kramp, Katja; Brunet, Jorg; Decocq, Guillaume; De Frenne, Pieter; Diekmann, Martin; Liira, Jaan; Spicher, Fabien; Vangansbeke, Pieter; Vanneste, Thomas; Verheyen, Kris; Naaf, Tobias


Due to multiple land-cover changes, forest herb populations residing in forest patches embedded in agricultural landscapes display different ages and, thus, experience differences in genetic exchange, mutation accumulation and genetic drift. The extent of divergence in present-day population genetic structure among these populations of different ages remains unclear, considering their diverse breeding systems and associated pollinators. Answering this question is essential to understand these species' persistence, maintenance of evolutionary potential and adaptability to changing environments. We applied a multi-landscape setup to compare the genetic structure of forest herb populations across forest patches of different ages (18-338 years). We studied the impact on three common slow-colonizer herb species with distinct breeding systems and associated pollinators: Polygonatum multiflorum (outcrossing, long-distance pollinators), Anemone nemorosa (outcrossing, short-distance pollinators) and Oxalis acetosella (mixed breeding). We aimed to assess if in general older populations displayed higher genetic diversity and lower differentiation than younger ones. We also anticipated that P. multiflorum would show the smallest while O. acetosella the largest difference, between old and young populations. We found that older populations had a higher observed heterozygosity (Ho) but a similar level of allelic richness (Ar) and expected heterozygosity (He) as younger populations, except for A. nemorosa, which exhibited higher Ar and He in younger populations. As populations aged, their pairwise genetic differentiation measured by DPS decreased independent of species identity while the other two genetic differentiation measures showed either comparable levels between old and young populations (G"ST) or inconsistency among three species (cGD). The age difference of the two populations did not explain their genetic differentiation. Synthesis: We found restricted evidence that forest herb populations with different ages differ in their genetic structure, indicating that populations of different ages can reach a similar genetic structure within decades and thus persist in the long term after habitat disturbance. Despite their distinct breeding systems and associated pollinators, the three studied species exhibited partly similar genetic patterns, suggesting that their common characteristics, such as being slow colonizers or their ability to propagate vegetatively, are important in determining their long-term response to land-cover change.This study applied a multi-species multi-landscape setup to compare the genetic diversity and differentiation among forest herb populations of different ages in agricultural landscapes. We found that the slow-colonizer species populations of different ages can reach a similar genetic structure within decades and thus persist in the long term after habitat disturbance.image


agricultural landscape; genetic connectivity; genetic differentiation; genetic diversity; habitat fragmentation; time lag

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2024, Volume: 14, number: 2, article number: e10971
Publisher: WILEY

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Evolutionary Biology

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)