Population genetic variability and distribution of the endangered Greek endemic Cicer graecum under climate change scenarios


The Mediterranean hot spot includes numerous endemic and socio-economically important plant species seriously threatened by climate change and habitat loss. In this study, the genetic diversity of five populations of Cicer graecum, an endangered endemic species from Northern Peloponnisos, Greece and a wild relative of the cultivated Cicer arietinum, was investigated using Inter Simple Sequence Repeats (ISSR) and Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) markers in order to determine levels and structure of genetic variability. Nei’s gene diversity by ISSR and AFLP markers indicated medium to high genetic diversity at the population level. Moreover, AMOVA results suggest that most of the variation exists within (93% for AFLPs and 65% for ISSRs), rather than among populations. Furthermore, Principal Component Analysis based on ISSRs positively correlated the genetic differentiation among the populations to the geographic distances, suggesting that the gene flow among distant populations is limited. The ecological adaptation of C. graecum populations was also investigated by correlation of their genetic diversity with certain environmental variables. Aridity arose as the dominant factor positively affecting the genetic diversity of C. graecum populations. We modeled the realized climatic niche of C. graecum in an ensemble forecasting scheme under three different global circulation models and two climate change scenarios. In all cases, a severe range contraction for C. graecum is projected, highlighting the high extinction risk that is probably going to face during the coming decades. These results could be a valuable tool towards the implementation of an integrated in situ and ex situ conservation scheme approach for activating management programs for this endemic and threatened species.