Conservation genetics of the threatened plant species Physaria filiformis (Missouri bladderpod) reveals strong genetic structure and a possible cryptic species

Christine E. Edwards, Brooke C. Tessier, Joel F. Swift, Burgund Bassüner, Alexander G. Linan, Matthew A. Albrecht, George A. Yatskievych

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10 Scopus citations


Understanding genetic diversity and structure in a rare species is critical for prioritizing both in situ and ex situ conservation efforts. One such rare species is Physaria filiformis (Brassicaceae), a threatened, winter annual plant species. The species has a naturally fragmented distribution, occupying three different soil types spread across four disjunct geographical locations in Missouri and Arkansas. The goals of this study were to understand: (1) whether factors associated with fragmentation and small population size (i.e., inbreeding, genetic drift or genetic bottlenecks) have reduced levels of genetic diversity, (2) how genetic variation is structured and which factors have influenced genetic structure, and (3) how much extant genetic variation of P. filiformis is currently publicly protected and the implications for the development of conservation strategies to protect its genetic diversity. Using 16 microsatellite markers, we genotyped individuals from 20 populations of P. filiformis from across its geographical range and one population of Physaria gracilis for comparison and analyzed genetic diversity and structure. Populations of P. filiformis showed comparable levels of genetic diversity to its congener, except a single population in northwest Arkansas showed evidence of a genetic bottleneck and two populations in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas showed lower genetic variation, consistent with genetic drift. Populations showed isolation by distance, indicating that migration is geographically limited, and analyses of genetic structure grouped individuals into seven geographically structured genetic clusters, with geographic location/spatial separation showing a strong influence on genetic structure. At least one population is protected for all genetic clusters except one in north-central Arkansas, which should therefore be prioritized for protection. Populations in the Ouachita Mountains were genetically divergent from the rest of P. filiformis; future morphological analyses are needed to identify whether it merits recognition as a new, extremely rare species.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0247586
JournalPloS one
Issue number3 March
StatePublished - Mar 2021


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