In this study six simple sequence repeats (SSR or microsatellites) were selected for their ability to fingerprint a total of 60 commercial clones of Populus deltoides Marsh. and Populus × canadensis Moench (typically derived from crosses between Populus nigra L and P. deltoides) and to characterize a natural population of P. nigra growing along the Ticino river in the North of Italy. Out of six SSRs used, four microsatellite loci were found to have alleles which were species-specific to P. deltoides and could therefore be used as markers for introgression of P. deltoides into P. nigra. In the studied region hybrid poplars and P. deltoides commercial clones are cultivated as monoclonal stands close to the area where black poplar has its natural habitat. SSR analysis was performed to investigate whether there was evidence of introgression between the natural population and the monoclonal plantations of hybrids and P. deltoides clones cultivated in the surrounding area. Three stages of the natural population were analysed: a group of old trees about a hundred years old, a younger population (aged 2–30 years) and the seedlings of three females of this population. Alleles specific to P. deltoides were detected only in the old cohort of the natural population, while no introgression was observed in the younger individuals and their progenies. These results were also confirmed by isozyme analysis of loci PGI-B, PGM and LAP-A, which were previously identified as diagnostic for P. nigra, P. deltoides and P.×canadensis.
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