Previous studies have shown that levels of genetic diversity in species of the genus Cephalanthera covary with the breeding system. In the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, the three self-compatible terrestrial orchids Cephalanthera erecta, C. falcata and C. longibracteata flower synchronously in sympatric populations. The food-deceptive C. falcata with bright yellow flowers is predominantly outcrossing, whereas autogamy is the dominant strategy in both C. erecta and C. longibracteata, whose white flowers do not open fully. We examined genetic diversity (by means of allozymes) of the three species in sympatric populations (600 × 600 m area) in the Yeonwhasan Provincial Park (YPP) and in non-sympatric populations outside YPP, South Korea. Thirteen out of 20 putative loci were variable across the three species, but there was a complete lack of allozyme variation within each species and we found no evidence of hybridisation. Our results suggest that historical factors, i.e. the Quaternary climate oscillations, have played a major role in determining levels of genetic diversity in the three Cephalanthera species. The Korean populations of C. erecta (a warm-temperate/temperate element) and C. falcata (a warm-temperate element) may have been established by a single introduction from a genetically depauperate ancestral population, likely located outside the Korean Peninsula. On the other hand, since C. longibracteata is a boreal/temperate element, it may have survived the Last Glacial Maximum in microrefugia located in low elevation regions within the Peninsula where it has been subjected to population bottlenecks reducing its genetic diversity.
- genetic diversity
- long-distance dispersal