Survival in the Tropics despite isolation, inbreeding and asexual reproduction: insights from the genome of the world's southernmost poplar (Populus ilicifolia)

Plant J. 2020 Jul;103(1):430-442. doi: 10.1111/tpj.14744. Epub 2020 Apr 3.


Species are becoming extinct at unprecedented rates as a consequence of human activity. Hence it is important to understand the evolutionary dynamics of species with already small population sizes. Populus ilicifolia is a vulnerable poplar species that is isolated from other poplar species and is uniquely adapted to the Tropics. It has a very limited size, reproduces partly clonally and is therefore an excellent case study for conservation genomics. We present here the first annotated draft genome of P. ilicifolia, characterize genome-wide patterns of polymorphisms and compare those to other poplar species with larger natural ranges. P. ilicifolia experienced a more prolonged and severe decline of effective population size (Ne ) and signs of genetic erosion than any other poplar species with which it was compared. At present, the species has the lowest genome-wide genetic diversity, the highest abundance of long runs of homozygosity, high inbreeding levels as well as a high overall accumulation of deleterious variants. However, more effective purging of severely deleterious variants and adaptation to the Tropics may have contributed to its survival. Hence, in spite of its limited genetic variation, it is certainly worth pursuing the conservation efforts of this unique species.

Keywords: conservation genomics; genetic diversity; genetic load; inbreeding; tropical adaptation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Endangered Species
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genome, Plant / genetics*
  • Genome, Plant / physiology
  • Homozygote
  • Inbreeding
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics
  • Populus / genetics*
  • Populus / physiology
  • Reproduction, Asexual / genetics*
  • Tropical Climate

Associated data