Fine-Scale Spatial Patterns of the Genetic Diversity of European Beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) around a Mountainous Glacial Refugium in the SW Balkans
Beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) is one of the most important forest trees in Europe and its current broad expanse over the continent is believed to be the outcome of the Holocene postglacial expansion of lineages originating from different glacial refugia. Studies using gene markers, pollen profiles and fossils suggest the main locations of glacial refugia in Southern Europe. In this study, we conduct a fine-scale genetic study on the beech populations surrounding the Almopia basin, an area that is
... aid to have hosted one of the main European glacial refugia for several plant and animal species during the Pleistocene Epoch. We test the hypothesis of the existence of a local refugium in the study area for beech to understand the spatial genetic pattern of the putative refugial beech populations in the area and to investigate possible genetic connections between the local beech populations and the European expansion of the species. The genetic diversity of 100 sampled trees in 20 plots representing the expansion of beech in the area was studied using chloroplast and nuclear DNA microsatellites (cpSSR and nSSR, respectively). All three cpSSR regions were polymorphic, resulting in eight haplotypes, separated spatially in two distinct groups (one on the western and the other on the eastern part of the Almopia basin) that correspond to two different postglacial beech lineages. Furthermore, the cpSSR sequences of the eastern lineage are genetically identical to those of beech populations extending over central and northern Europe. The nSSR markers were highly polymorphic, and the trees studied were separated into two genetic groups that coincided with the cpSSR ones in locations where the topography is more pronounced. These results indicated that the Almopia region was indeed a major refugium for beech that possibly produced two main postglacial lineages for Europe, one of which is connected with the majority of beech populations growing on the continent. These southern refugial populations are important diversity centers that need to be the subject of special management and conservation.