Genetic Mosaics in Strangler Fig Trees: Implications for Tropical Conservation

Science  22 Nov 1991:
Vol. 254, Issue 5035, pp. 1214-1216
DOI: 10.1126/science.254.5035.1214


Single trees of six species of strangler figs (Ficus spp., Moraceae) in Panama were found to be made up of multiple genotypes, presumably formed by the fusion of different individuals. The phenomenon is frequent enough that strangler fig populations will contain considerably more genetic variation than would be expected from the number of trees. How this cryptic variation affects populations depends on the flowering phonology of composite trees. If the genetically different portions of trees flower asynchronously, populations of pollinating wasps may be more resistant to low host population sizes than previously thought. If different portions flower synchronously, attempts to infer mating-system parameters from the parentage of fruit crops will be misleading. The fruiting of figs, which are considered a keystone species in tropical forests, is important for maintaining biodiversity but is also particularly susceptible to failure at small population sizes. It is therefore important to know both the number of trees and the number of genotypes in a population.