Patterns of genetic and phenotypic variation in Iris haynei and I. atrofusca (Iris sect. Oncocyclus = the royal irises) along an ecogeographical gradient in Israel and the West Bank

Mol Ecol. 2002 Jan;11(1):39-53. doi: 10.1046/j.0962-1083.2001.01417.x.


Iris haynei and I. atrofusca are two closely related narrow endemics distributed vicariously along an ecogeographical north-south gradient in Israel and the West Bank. To obtain baseline information of the taxonomic status, conservation and population history of these taxa, we investigated patterns of phenotypic variation and the partitioning of genetic variation within and among populations using dominant random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers. Multivariate (principal components analysis) and taxonomic distance analyses based on morphometric traits from eight populations revealed no unambiguous separation into two distinct groups. Results of genetic analyses for nine populations differed only slightly when either allele- or marker-based approaches were employed. Mean within-population diversity was high (0.258 for Nei's expected heterozygosity), but there was no significant relationship between genetic diversity and either population size or latitude. Although the range-wide estimate of GST ( approximately 0.20) revealed relatively high differentiation among populations this value was inflated because of a small, but significant, component of molecular variance among regions viz. taxa ( approximately 5%). Limited long-distance dispersal capabilities in conjunction with a linearized habitat distribution are proposed to contribute to the approximate isolation by distance pattern observed. It also appears that extant populations are currently deviating from equilibrium conditions because of primary divergence of a formerly more widespread ancestral population. Given the absence of deep genetic and phenotypic subdivision among northern (I. haynei) vs. central/southern (I. atrofusca) populations, we argue for a revision of their species status. Nonetheless, we recommend conservation attention to these geographically differentiated segments as separate management units, which can be seen as an instructive example of incipient species formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA / genetics
  • Ecology
  • Genetic Variation
  • Israel
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants / anatomy & histology*
  • Plants / classification
  • Plants / genetics*
  • Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA Technique


  • DNA