Genetic diversity and structure of an endangered medicinal herb: implications for conservation

Human-driven habitat fragmentation leads to spatial isolation of endangered plant species, increasing extinction risk. Understanding genetic variability and population structure of rare and isolated plant species is of great importance for assessing extinction risk and setting up conservation plans. A recent study by Lee et al. published in AoB PLANTS investigates the extinction risk of the endangered medicinal herb Aconitum austrokoreense, a species with limited dispersal ability.

A picture of Aconitum austrokoreense
A picture of an endangered perennial herb, Aconitum austrokoreense in a wild habitat, Mt. Jiri. Image credit: C.E. Lim.

The molecular analysis of 479 individuals of A. austrokoreensefrom seven populations throughout South Korea revealed that within-population level genetic diversity is low whereas the among-population divergence is high in this species. There was significant correlation between geographical and genetic distances indicating a pattern of isolation by distance. The results suggest that several populations of A. austrokoreensemight have experienced recent population bottlenecks, and that the species might have declined and/or is still declining in population size resulting in increased extinction risk. Coupled with life history traits such as dispersal ability and pollination, recent habitat fragmentation may further increase the extinction risk of the species.

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