Environmental isolation explains Iberian genetic diversity in the highly homozygous model grass Brachypodium distachyon

  • Articles in SCI Journals
  • Dec, 2017

Marques, I., Shiposha, V., López-Alvarez, D., Manzaneda, A.J., Hernandez, P. Olonova, M., & Catalán, P. (2017) Environmental isolation explains Iberian genetic diversity in the highly homozygous model grass Brachypodium distachyon

BMC Evolutionary Biology, 17(139), 1-14. DOI:10.1186/s12862-017-0996-x (IF2016 3,221; Q2 Evolutionary Biology) NON-cE3c affiliated


Brachypodium distachyon (Poaceae), an annual Mediterranean Aluminum (Al)-sensitive grass, is currently being used as a model species to provide new information on cereals and biofuel crops. The plant has a short life cycle and one of the smallest genomes in the grasses being well suited to experimental manipulation. Its genome has been fully sequenced and several genomic resources are being developed to elucidate key traits and gene functions. A reliable germplasm collection that reflects the natural diversity of this species is therefore needed for all these genomic resources. However, despite being a model plant, we still know very little about its genetic diversity. As a first step to overcome this gap, we used nuclear Simple Sequence Repeats (nSSR) to study the patterns of genetic diversity and population structure of B. distachyon in 14 populations sampled across the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), one of its best known areas.


We found very low levels of genetic diversity, allelic number and heterozygosity in B. distachyon, congruent with a highly selfing system. Our results indicate the existence of at least three genetic clusters providing additional evidence for the existence of a significant genetic structure in the Iberian Peninsula and supporting this geographical area as an important genetic reservoir. Several hotspots of genetic diversity were detected and populations growing on basic soils were significantly more diverse than those growing in acidic soils. A partial Mantel test confirmed a statistically significant Isolation-By-Distance (IBD) among all studied populations, as well as a statistically significant Isolation-By-Environment (IBE) revealing the presence of environmental-driven isolation as one explanation for the genetic patterns found in the Iberian Peninsula.


The finding of higher genetic diversity in eastern Iberian populations occurring in basic soils suggests that these populations can be better adapted than those occurring in western areas of the Iberian Peninsula where the soils are more acidic and accumulate toxic Al ions. This suggests that the western Iberian acidic soils might prevent the establishment of Al-sensitive B. distachyon populations, potentially causing the existence of more genetically depauperated individuals.