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Plant ontogeny, spatial distance, and soil type influence patterns of relatedness in a common Amazonian tree.


The formation of spatial genetic structure (SGS) may originate from different patterns of seed deposition in the landscape, and is mostly determined by seed dispersal limitation. After dispersal, mechanisms such as filtering by environmental factors or attack by herbivores/pathogens throughout plant development stages, and potentially either disrupt or intensify SGS patterns. We investigated how the genotype of Protium subserratum (Burseraceae), a common tree species in the Ducke Reserve, Brazil, is distributed across the landscape. We used seven microsatellite markers to assess the SGS among plants at different life stages and in different environments. By quantifying the patterns of relatedness among plants of different sizes, we inferred the ontogenetic stage in which SGS changes occurred, and compared these effects across soil types. Relatedness among seedlings decreased when distance between seedlings increased, especially for the youngest seedlings. However, this trend was not continued by older plants, as relatedness values were higher among neighboring individuals of the juvenile and adult size class. Contrasting relatedness patterns between seedlings and larger individuals suggests a trade-off between the negative effects of being near closely-related adults (e.g. due to herbivore and pathogen attack) and the advantage of being in a site favorable to establishment. We also found that soil texture strongly influenced density-dependence patterns, as young seedlings in clay soils were more related to each other than were seedlings in bottomland sandy soils, suggesting that the mechanisms that create and maintain patterns of SGS within a population may interact with environmental heterogeneity.

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