Journal Article

Genetic structure and systematic relationships within the <i>Ophrys fuciflora</i> aggregate (Orchidaceae: Orchidinae): high diversity in Kent and a wind-induced discontinuity bisecting the Adriatic

Dion S. Devey, Richard M. Bateman, Michael F. Fay and Julie A. Hawkins

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 104, issue 3, pages 483-495
Published in print August 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Genetic structure and systematic relationships within the Ophrys fuciflora aggregate (Orchidaceae: Orchidinae): high diversity in Kent and a wind-induced discontinuity bisecting the Adriatic

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

A recent phylogenetic study based on multiple datasets is used as the framework for a more detailed examination of one of the ten molecularly circumscribed groups identified, the Ophrys fuciflora aggregate. The group is highly morphologically variable, prone to phenotypic convergence, shows low levels of sequence divergence and contains an unusually large proportion of threatened taxa, including the rarest Ophrys species in the UK. The aims of this study were to (a) circumscribe minimum resolvable genetically distinct entities within the O. fuciflora aggregate, and (b) assess the likelihood of gene flow between genetically and geographically distinct entities at the species and population levels.


Fifty-five accessions sampled in Europe and Asia Minor from the O. fuciflora aggregate were studied using the AFLP genetic fingerprinting technique to evaluate levels of infraspecific and interspecific genetic variation and to assess genetic relationships between UK populations of O. fuciflora s.s. in Kent and in their continental European and Mediterranean counterparts.

Key Results

The two genetically and geographically distinct groups recovered, one located in England and central Europe and one in south-eastern Europe, are incongruent with current species delimitation within the aggregate as a whole and also within O. fuciflora s.s. Genetic diversity is higher in Kent than in the rest of western and central Europe.


Gene flow is more likely to occur between populations in closer geographical proximity than those that are morphologically more similar. Little if any gene flow occurs between populations located in the south-eastern Mediterranean and those dispersed throughout the remainder of the distribution, revealing a genetic discontinuity that runs north–south through the Adriatic. This discontinuity is also evident in other clades of Ophrys and is tentatively attributed to the long-term influence of prevailing winds on the long-distance distribution of pollinia and especially seeds. A cline of gene flow connects populations from Kent and central and southern Europe; these individuals should therefore be considered part of an extensive meta-population. Gene flow is also evident among populations from Kent, which appear to constitute a single metapopulation. They show some evidence of hybridization, and possibly also introgression, with O. apifera.

Keywords: AFLP; conservation; gene flow; Kent; migration; Ophrys fuciflora; prevailing winds; pseudocopulation; speciation; species delimitation

Journal Article.  6422 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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