Geographically structured genetic variation in the Medicago lupulina–Ensifer mutualism

Tia L. Harrison, Corlett W. Wood, Katy D. Heath, John R. Stinchcombe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gene flow between genetically differentiated populations can maintain variation in species interactions, especially when population structure is congruent between interacting species. However, large-scale empirical comparisons of the population structure of interacting species are rare, particularly in positive interspecific interactions (mutualisms). One agriculturally and ecologically important mutualism is the partnership between legume plants and rhizobia. Through characterizing and comparing the population genomic structure of the legume Medicago lupulina and two rhizobial species (Ensifer medicae and E. meliloti), we explored the spatial scale of population differentiation between interacting partners in their introduced range in North America. We found high proportions of E. meliloti in southeastern populations and high proportions of E. medicae in northwestern populations. Medicago lupulina and the Ensifer genus showed similar patterns of spatial genetic structure (isolation by distance). However, we detected no evidence of isolation by distance or population structure within either species of bacteria. Genome-wide nucleotide diversity within each of the two Ensifer species was low, suggesting limited introduction of strains, founder events, or severe bottlenecks. Our results suggest that there is potential for geographically structured coevolution between M. lupulina and the Ensifer genus, but not between M. lupulina and either Ensifer species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1787-1801
Number of pages15
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Coevolution
  • gene flow
  • genetic differentiation
  • invasion
  • mutualism
  • population genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Geographically structured genetic variation in the Medicago lupulina–Ensifer mutualism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this