The University of Arizona

Long-term grazing effects on genetic variation in Idaho fescue

David Matlaga, Keith Karoly


The effect of cattle grazing on the genetic structure of native grass populations has received little attention. We investigated the effect of cattle grazing on genetic variation in Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer) using ISSR (inter-simple sequence repeat) DNA markers. The ISSR markers are hypervariable and are generally interpreted as being selectively neutral. Idaho fescue tillers were sampled from inside (N = 31) and outside (N = 34) a 64-year-old cattle exclosure in southeastern Oregon. We extracted DNA and used 2 ISSR primers to determine the genotypes for grazed and ungrazed plants at 60 variable loci. No statistically significant differences were observed between grazed and ungrazed samples for percent polymorphic loci (grazed = 85%; ungrazed = 80%), mean expected heterozygosity (grazed = 0.1393; ungrazed = 0.1365), or for a measure of loci dissimilarity (grazed = 0.506; ungrazed = 0.536). We also found that the ungrazed individuals sampled inside the exclosure were not significantly genetically differentiated from the grazed individuals sampled outside the exclosure (Gst = 0.0008 averaged across all loci). Our results differ from past studies that found demographic and physiological differences between Idaho fescue inside and outside of grazing exclosures at the same site. Our results mirror those of other researchers who have also failed to detect genetic differences at marker loci in response to grazing. We propose that either the mechanisms that must be present to cause changes in neutral genetic variation are not affected by cattle grazing for Idaho fescue at this site, or that any effects of grazing on neutral genetic variation were overwhelmed by gene flow between the grazed and ungrazed samples.



cattle grazing; Inter-Simple Sequence Repeat markers; Festuca idahoensis; Monte Carlo procedure

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