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Ramapo College Professor Leads Team that Finds High Genetic Diversity in an Ancient Clone

(PDF) (DOC) (JPG)January 9, 2012

(MAHWAH, NJ) – The entire Hawaiian population of the peat moss Sphagnum palustre appears to be a clone that has been in existence for some 50,000 years researchers have discovered. Among the most long lived of organisms, every plant of the Hawaiian population appears to have been produced by vegetative rather than sexual propagation and can be traced back to a single parent, according to a team of researchers headed by Ramapo College Professor of Plant Ecology.

The genetic diversity of the Hawaiian clone is comparable to that detected in populations of S. palustre that do propagate sexually and occur across vaster regions, chronicled the study, which was published online in December by the journal New Phytologist.

“The genetic diversity of populations occurring on small remote islands is typically much lower than that detected in populations of the same species found on continents and on larger, less isolated islands,” said Karlin.

As the Hawaiian Islands are the most remote high volcanic island system in the world, the comparatively high genetic diversity detected in the Hawaiian population of S. palustre is unusual.

The occurrence of high genetic diversity in a clone was also “quite unexpected” said Professor Karlin.

This study indicates that significant genetic diversity can develop in a clonal population. It also suggests that vegetative propagation does not necessarily preclude long term evolutionary success in a plant.

Headed by Professor Karlin, the research team also included colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Sara Hotchkiss) in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, Duke University (Sandra Boles, Jonathan Shaw) in Durham, North Carolina, USA, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Hans Stenøien, Kristian Hassel, Kjell Flatberg), in Trondheim, Norway.

Genetic lab work was done at the Duke University Bryology Lab headed by Professor Jonathan Shaw.

Data on the population of S. palustre in eastern North America was provided by a prior study led by Professor Karlin and published in The Bryologist; Ramapo College students Melissa Giusti and Rebecca Lake were among the secondary authors of this prior study. In addition, a grant from the Ramapo College Foundation, which partly funded the Hawaiian project, enabled a third Ramapo College student, Falon Cartwright, to visit the Duke Bryology Lab where she gained experience with genetic analysis.

The study is available at:

For more information, please contact Professor Karlin at 201.684.7743 or via email at  For more information about New Phytologist, please visit


About Ramapo College

Ramapo College of New Jersey is the state’s premier public liberal arts college and is committed to academic excellence through interdisciplinary and experiential learning, and international and intercultural understanding. The comprehensive college is situated among the beautiful Ramapo Mountains, is within commuting distance to New York City, was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America by CondeNast Traveler, and boasts the best on-campus housing in New Jersey per Established in 1969, Ramapo College offers bachelor’s degrees in the arts, business, data science, humanities, social sciences and the sciences, as well as in professional studies, which include business, education, nursing and social work. In addition, the College offers courses leading to teacher certification at the elementary and secondary levels, and offers graduate programs leading to master’s degrees in Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Business Administration, Contemporary Instructional Design, Computer Science, Creative Music Technology, Data Science, Educational Leadership, Nursing, Social Work and Special Education, as well as a Doctor of Nursing Practice.


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