The extent and spatial patterns of genetic variation at allozyme markers were investigated within and between diploid and autotetraploid knapweeds (Centaurea jacea L. sensu lato, Asteraceae) at contrasted geographic scales: (1) among populations sampled from a diploid-tetraploid contact zone in the northeastern part of the Belgian Ardennes, and (2) within mixed populations from that zone where diploids and tetraploids coexist. Our data were also compared with a published dataset by Sommer (1990) describing allozyme variation in separate diploid and tetraploid knapweeds populations collected throughout Europe. Genetic diversity was higher in tetraploids. In the Belgian Ardennes and within the mixed populations, both cytotypes had similar levels of spatial genetic structure, they were genetically differentiated, and their distributions of allele frequencies were not spatially correlated. In contrast, at the European scale, diploids and tetraploids did not show differentiated gene pools and presented a strong correlation between their patterns of spatial genetic variation. Numerical simulations showed that the striking difference in patterns observed at small and large geographic scales could be accounted for by a combination of (1) isolation by distance within cytotypes; and (2) partial reproductive barriers between cytotypes and/or recurrent formation of tetraploids. We suggest that this may explain the difficulty of the taxonomic treatment of knapweeds and of polyploid complexes in general.
Corresponding Editor: M. Dudash