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Keywords:

  • chloroplast DNA (cpDNA);
  • genetic markers;
  • postglacial migration;
  • Quercus spp.;
  • tRNALeu1 intron.

Refugial differentiation and routes of postglacial migration are major determinants of the patterns of geographical variation we see in natural populations today. We used patterns of chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) variation to investigate the postglacial colonization history of the European oak species Quercus robur and Q. petraea. By sequencing two cpDNA segments using universal primers, we revealed four polymorphic sites which identify four cytotypes with characteristic geographical distributions. Of these, the principal eastern, central and western cytotypes divide the range into three longitudinal zones, each extending from the south to the north of Europe. This corroborates the idea that the postglacial colonization started from three distinct southerly refugia. The fourth cytotype, restricted to East Anglia, was probably derived from the western type postglacially. As a special problem, we addressed the controversial origin of Q. robur at its northern limits in south-western Finland, where it currently occupies a narrow coastal zone disjunct from the remaining oak range. Using a PCR-RFLP assay that discriminates the eastern cytotype, a contact zone of two cytotypes was identified in the region of the Salpausselkä ridges. This suggests that the marginal northern occurrence was independently colonized both from the east and from the west, across the Baltic Sea.