COS 120-7 - Extensive clonal spread and longevity of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) in a threatened ecosystem

Thursday, August 11, 2011: 3:40 PM
18D, Austin Convention Center
Mizuki K. Takahashi1, Liana M. Horner1, Toshiro Kubota2, Nathan A. Keller1 and Warren G. Abrahamson1, (1)Biology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, (2)Mathematical Sciences, Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, PA

As a foundation species, shrub-like saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) provides crucial structural and functional services to most southeastern United States ecosystems including the threatened Florida scrub. Despite Florida scrub’s high endemic biodiversity, human development has destroyed > 85 % of the pre-settlement extent of its ecosystem. Commercial harvesting of wild Serenoa fruits by the pharmaceutical industry may also have adverse effects on persistence of Serenoa populations. Although development of proper management plans is needed, we have virtually no knowledge of Serenoa’s fundamental life history such as the extent of clonal spread, longevity, and relative contribution of sexual vs. asexual propagation. We used AFLPs and modeling of clonal networks to provide such life history information of Serenoa in order to establish a foundation for conservation planning. We analyzed 263 Serenoa and 134 Sabal etonia (a sympatric non-clonal palmetto) samples collected from a 20 x 20 m study plot in Florida scrub. Sabal samples were used to assign small palmettos whose species were unidentifiable in the field to Serenoa or Sabal and also as a negative control for clone detection.


Our results suggest extensive clonal spread and remarkable longevity in Serenoa, while showing no evidence of clones in Sabal. Serenoa predominantly propagate via vegetative suckers and 10,000 yr-old genets are likely to be common. This and previous studies of Serenoa send a clear message that preservation of the existent Serenoa populations is an urgent and crucial task to safeguard the endangered biodiversity of Florida scrub for future generations.    

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