Aim The distribution of the genetic variation in long-lived species is a combination of both, historical and current processes. In Nothofagus nervosa (Phil.) Dim. et Mil., the possible existence of multiple glacial refugia, the unidirectional gene flow along fragmented areas and the natural hybridization with the related species Nothofagus obliqua (Mirb.) Oerst. highlights as the most important factors responsible for modelling its genetic structure. The present study aims to find out the relative importance of these evolutionary processes in determining the distribution pattern of the genetic variation in N. nervosa.
Location The study was carried out in north-western Patagonia, Argentina. Twenty populations covering the entire distribution range of N. nervosa in Argentina were analysed. For comparison purposes, three populations from Chile were also included.
Methods Genetic variation was detected using isozyme gene markers; diversity and differentiation parameters were calculated. A cluster analysis was performed and the correlation between genetic and geographical distances was tested.
Results Levels of genetic variation were relatively high given the small distribution range of the species in Argentina. Genetic and geographical distances were not correlated and a longitudinal trend in the genetic variation was evident. Hotspots of diversity with rare and private alleles were observed among western populations, while hybrid seeds were found almost exclusively among eastern populations.
Main conclusions The higher level of diversity observed in western populations could be related with the location of glacial refugia. Furthermore, it should also reflect low levels of gene flow given the eastward unidirectional winds. On the contrary, ancient and current interspecific hybridization processes would mainly cause the particular genetic constitution of the eastern populations. Evidence is presented supporting that glaciations and hybridization were the main factors shaping the distribution of the genetic variation in N. nervosa.