Population clustering and clonal structure evidence the relict state of Ulmus minor Mill. in the Balearic Islands.
Field elm (Ulmus minor) is a riparian tree that grows in rare, small populations scattered along temporary watercourses in the Balearic Islands, nowadays mostly covered with Mediterranean vegetation. Agriculture and farming on the fertile land along the periodically flooded plains have reduced the elm populations to sparse tree lines along the creek beds. The presence of field elm in this very anthropic landscape has led some authors to consider it as an introduced species in the Balearics. However, pollen data suggest these elms may be the remains of larger populations experiencing continuous population shrinkage during the Holocene, and hence be native to the isles. In this paper, we apply genetic markers to assess whether field elm is or is not indigenous to the Balearic Islands. We compare the genetic variation in nine nuclear microsatellites of six Balearic populations (three in each of the largest islands, Majorca and Minorca) with that of three natural Iberian populations located in two regions, one geologically (Baetic mountains, SE Iberia) and another historically (Catalonia, NE Iberia) related to the islands. Principal coordinates analysis and Bayesian clustering methods reveal a strong genetic differentiation of the Balearic populations from the Iberian ones, and even among islands, which support their native origin. Genotypic variation in the islands is very low and clonal reproduction is very high compared with the mainland, as it is frequently observed in populations of clonal species where sexual reproduction is limited. We discuss the practical implications of these findings for the conservation of elm genetic resources of these findings.