Genetic considerations are rarely applied in forest conservation management strategies, but forest fragmentation can reduce pollen and seed dispersal both between and within isolated fragments. Gene flow and immigration rates determine the extent to which individual plants are related to each other at different distances from themselves. This gradation in relatedness is known as a population's fine scale spatial genetic structure (SGS). Specifically, reduced but clumped immigration from distant fragments reduces fine scale SGS, whereas reduced gene flow within fragments increases fine scale SGS. In addition, non-random mortality caused by post-dispersal ecological processes can also affect SGS. We studied the effects of fragmentation on the fine scale SGS of Ficus species with different habitat preferences and distributional ranges in an archipelago of South African forest patches. Significant fine scale SGS present in all three species suggests gene dispersal is restricted, even within forest fragments, probably due to localised seed dispersal. An endemic forest specialist, F. bizanae, has an unusually high fine scale SGS for a monoecious Ficus. This may be explained by several features that reduce pollen dispersal distances and are more typical of dioecious Ficus. A significant negative kinship coefficient in one F. bizanae population suggests that clumped long-distance immigration may have occurred in the past. Significant fine scale SGS in adult but not juvenile F. craterostoma suggests that recent population fragmentation has negatively affected long-distance immigration. Supplementation of F. craterostoma gene flow would maintain its genetic diversity. In contrast, the limited range of F. bizanae may result from its pollinator’s behavior, rather than specific habitat requirements and ensuring its long-term survival may require artificial introductions to other forests.
Data availability statement: Sampling location, microsatellite genotypes of each individual: Research data repository-Figshare DOI: https://doi-org.uplib.idm.oclc.org/10.25403/UPresearchdata.11900007.v2. Locality data for three fig species from seven forests: Research data repository-Figshare DOI: https://doi-org.uplib.idm.oclc.org/10.25403/UPresearchdata.12235379.