The Prince or the Depauperate? Population Genetics of the Rare, Closed-flower Erica occulta

Bachelor Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Understanding breeding systems and gene flow is important for the conservation of rare species. Despite this, they remain relatively unknown for Fynbos species. Erica occulta is a rare, dull, closed-flower Erica that is restricted to the few limestone cliffs near Groot Hagelkraal on the Southern Agulhas Plain, South Africa. Its restricted range and small population make it a vulnerable species and determining its breeding system and genetic diversity may inform the best method of conservation. The aims of this study were to determine the genetic diversity of E. occulta and how it varies with distance and to make inferences about the breeding system and gene flow based on genetic diversity measures. Due to the population’s small, isolated nature, it was predicted that the species would have a low number of alleles and low heterozygosity. Given its floral morphology it was predicted to be a self-fertilising plant which may manifest as a further loss of heterozygosity and strong genetic isolation by distance.

Includes bibliographical references.