The genetic variation within and between wild apple samples (Malus sylvestris) and cultivated apple trees was investigated with amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) and microsatellite markers to develop a conservation genetics programme for the endangered wild apple in Belgium. In total, 76 putative wild apples (originating from Belgium and Germany), six presumed hybrids and 39 cultivars were typed at 12 simple sequence repeats (SSR) and 139 amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) loci. Principal co-ordinate analysis and a model-based clustering method classified the apples into three major gene pools: wild Malus sylvestris genotypes, edible cultivars and ornamental cultivars. All presumed hybrids and two individuals (one Belgian, one German) sampled as M. sylvestris were assigned completely to the edible cultivar gene pool, revealing that cultivated genotypes are present in the wild. However, gene flow between wild and cultivated gene pools is shown to be almost absent, with only three genotypes that showed evidence of admixture between the wild and edible cultivar gene pools. Wild apples sampled in Belgium and Germany constitute gene pools that are clearly differentiated from cultivars and although some geographical pattern of genetic differentiation among wild apple populations exists, most variation is concentrated within samples. Concordant conclusions were obtained from AFLP and SSR markers, which showed highly significant correlations in both among-genotypes and among-samples genetic distances.
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