Strong Genetic Differentiation of Submerged Plant Populations across Mountain Ranges: Evidence from Potamogeton pectinatus in Iran

PLoS One. 2016 Aug 25;11(8):e0161889. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161889. eCollection 2016.


Biogeographic barriers for freshwater biota can be effective at various spatial scales. At the largest spatial scale, freshwater organisms can become genetically isolated by their high mountain ranges, vast deserts, and inability to cross oceans. Isolation by distance of aquatic plants is expected to be stronger across than alongside mountain ridges whereas the heterogeneity of habitats among populations and temporary droughts may influence connectivity and hamper dispersal. Suitable aquatic plant habitats became reduced, even for the widespread submerged Potamogeton pectinatus L. (also named Stuckenia pectinata) giving structure to various aquatic habitats. We compared the level of genetic diversity in a heterogeneous series of aquatic habitats across Iran and tested their differentiation over distances and across mountain ranges (Alborz and Zagros) and desert zones (Kavir), with values obtained from temperate region populations. The diversity of aquatic ecosystems across and along large geographic barriers provided a unique ecological situation within Iran. P. pectinatus were considered from thirty-six sites across Iran at direct flight distances ranging from 20 to 1,200 km. Nine microsatellite loci revealed a very high number of alleles over all sites. A PCoA, NJT clustering and STRUCTURE analysis revealed a separate grouping of individuals of southeastern Iranian sites and was confirmed by their different nuclear ITS and cpDNA haplotypes thereby indicating an evolutionary significant unit (ESU). At the level of populations, a positive correlation between allelic differentiation Dest with geographic distance was found. Individual-based STRUCTURE analysis over 36 sites showed 7 genetic clusters. FST and RST values for ten populations reached 0.343 and 0.521, respectively thereby indicating that allele length differences are more important and contain evolutionary information. Overall, higher levels of diversity and a stronger differentiation was revealed among Iranian P. pectinatus than previously observed for temperate European regions, due to regional differences across mountain ranges over long distances.

MeSH terms

  • Altitude
  • Aquatic Organisms / genetics*
  • Chloroplast Proteins / genetics
  • DNA, Chloroplast / chemistry
  • DNA, Chloroplast / genetics
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Geography
  • Haplotypes
  • Iran
  • Lakes
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Potamogetonaceae / classification
  • Potamogetonaceae / genetics*
  • Potamogetonaceae / growth & development
  • Rivers
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Wetlands


  • Chloroplast Proteins
  • DNA, Chloroplast

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Department of Biology, University of Isfahan as part of PhD thesis and the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) in Belgium’s research group APNA laboratory for support in experimental work on microsatellites (BAS42). ShA was supported by a scholarship from Iran’s Ministry of Science. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.