Populations from 13 elevational transects of Norway spruce [Picea abies (L.) Karst] across the Alpine range were sampled to elucidate the geographical pattern of genetic variation in relation to postglacial re-colonization and to study elevational effects on haplotypic diversity. We assessed fragment length variation in a tandem repeat region of the mitochondrial (mt) nad1 intron 2. This maternally inherited genetic marker is suited to infer migration as it is dispersed by seed only. A total of 10 haplotypes was found, most of which were due to repeat copy number variation. An analysis of molecular variance (amova) showed that overall population differentiation was high (FST = 0.41), and it revealed a significant differentiation between monomorphic western and moderately to highly variable eastern Alpine populations. This phylogeographic pattern may be explained by a founder effect during postglacial re-colonization. An early arriving haplotype, assumed to originate from a western Carpathian refugium, could expand into suitable habitats, reducing the chances for establishment of subsequently arriving haplotypes. On the other hand, the high variation in populations within an Italian transect of the south-eastern Alps may be the consequence of merging migration pathways from and close distance to putative glacial refugia, most likely those assumed in the Carpathian mountains and on the Balkan peninsula or possibly in the central plains of Italy. An effect of elevation on haplotypic diversity was not evident, though a low, but significant, partition of total genetic variation was attributed to among-population variation in one Italian transect. Various factors, such as vertical seed dispersal and forest management, may account for blurring an otherwise established pattern of genetic variation on a small geographical scale.
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