Aim To characterize the genetic structure and diversity of Pinus cembra L. populations native to two disjunct geographical areas, the Alps and the Carpathians, and to evaluate the rate of genetic differentiation among populations.
Location The Swiss Alps and the Carpathians.
Methods We screened 28 populations at three paternally inherited chloroplast simple sequence repeats (cpSSRs) for length variation in their mononucleotide repeats. Statistical analysis assessed haplotypic variation and fixation indices. Hierarchical analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA), Mantel test, spatial analysis of molecular variance (SAMOVA) and barrier analyses were applied to evaluate the geographical partitioning of genetic diversity across the species’ range.
Results Haplotypic diversity was generally high throughout the natural range of P. cembra, with the mean value substantially higher in the Carpathians (H = 0.53) than in the Alps (H = 0.35). The isolated Carpathian populations showed the highest haplotype diversity among the populations originating from the High Tatras (Velka Studena Dolina) and South Carpathians (Retezat Mountains). AMOVA revealed that only 3% of the total genetic variation derived from genetic differentiation between the two mountain ranges. Differentiation among Carpathian populations was higher (FST = 0.19) than among Alpine populations (FST = 0.04). Low, but significant, correlation was found between the geographical and genetic distances among pairs of populations (r = 0.286, P < 0.001). SAMOVA results revealed no evident geographical structure of populations. barrier analysis showed the strongest differentiation in the eastern part of the species’ range, i.e. in the Carpathians.
Main conclusions The populations of P. cembra within the two parts of the species’ range still share many cpDNA haplotypes, suggesting a common gene pool conserved from a previously large, continuous distribution range. Carpathian populations have maintained high haplotypic variation, even higher than Alpine populations, despite their small population sizes and spatial isolation. Based on our results, we emphasize the importance of the Carpathian populations of Swiss stone pine for conservation. These populations comprise private haplotypes and they may represent a particular legacy of the species’ evolutionary history.