Genetic variation and spatial structure in sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) and implications for predicted global-scale environmental change


Lee E. Gunter, fax +1/423-576-9939, e-mail


Current ecosystem model predictions concerning the effects of global temperature increase on forest responses do not account for factors influencing long-term evolutionary dynamics of natural populations. Population structure and genetic variability may represent important factors in a species' ability to adapt to global-scale environmental change without experiencing major alterations in current range limits. Genetic variation and structure in sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.) were examined across three regions, between two stands within regions, and among four to five open-pollinated families within stands (total N = 547 genotypes) using 58 randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) markers. Differences within open-pollinated families account for the largest portion of the total variation (29%), while differences among regions represent less than 2% of the total variation. Genetic diversity, as indicated by estimates of percent polymorphic loci, expected heterozygosity, fixation coefficients, and genetic distance, is greatest in the southern region, which consists of populations with the maximum potential risk due to climate change effects. The high level of genetic similarity (greater than 90%) among some genotypes suggests that gene flow is occurring among regions, stands, and families. High levels of genetic variation among families indicate that vegetational models designed to predict species' response to global-scale environmental change may need to consider the degree and hierarchical structure of genetic variation when making large-scale inferences.