Genetic patterns in Podocarpus parlatorei reveal the long-term persistence of cold-tolerant elements in the southern Yungas


*Andrea C. Premoli, Laboratorio Ecotono, Centro Regional Universitario Bariloche, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, Quintral 1250, 8400 Bariloche, Argentina.


Aim  This study analyses long-term responses to climate changes in Podocarpus parlatorei, a cold-tolerant tree species from the subtropics in South America, using distribution patterns of isozyme variation.

Location Podocarpus parlatorei characterizes montane forests within the Yungas, a cloud forest of the subtropics of north-western Argentina and southern Bolivia. Podocarpus parlatorei consists of disjunct populations ecologically subdivided into northern, central, and southern sectors that we predict will be genetically divergent from one another as a result of historical isolation.

Methods  We collected fresh leaves from a maximum of 30 randomly selected individuals from each of 18 populations. We resolved 25 isozyme loci, and scored the most consistent 14, 57% of which were polymorphic. Within-population variation was tested against latitude, longitude, and elevation using multiple regressions. Genetic structure across populations was analysed using diversity parameters. The relationship between genetic and geographic distances was explored with reference to Pearson correlation coefficients.

Results  The effective number of alleles and observed heterozygosity increase latitudinally. Southern populations tend to be the most variable and genetically distinct. This result suggests that they could represent the location of a long-term refuge for P. parlatorei. The mean number of alleles per locus decreases with elevation. The total genetic diversity is HT = 0.163, 10% of which is distributed among populations. A positive association between genetic and geographic distances was detected.

Main conclusions  Reductions in genetic diversity towards the north and high-elevation mountains are consistent with evidence of patterns of forest migration resulting from climate change during the Late Quaternary, northern expansion during episodes of cooling, and range contraction towards the highlands during warming trends. Naturally disjunct populations of P. parlatorei are genetically divergent from one another, indicating that local genetic stocks should be used for restoration of degraded habitats.