• Abies;
  • AFLP;
  • allozymes;
  • bottlenecks;
  • cytoplasmic DNA;
  • introgressive hybridization;
  • Kamchatka;
  • north-east Asia;
  • Pleistocene;
  • Sakhalin Island


Aim  The main aim of the present study is to infer the post-glacial history of Abies species from north-east Asia and to test the hypotheses that coastal Abies populations suffered less from climatic fluctuations during Pleistocene glacial periods than their more continental counterparts, and that Sakhalin was a major area of introgression.

Location  Natural ranges of the fir species Abies nephrolepis, Abies sachalinensis and Abies holophylla in the Russian Far East, and of Abies gracilis, which is endemic to the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Methods  Nineteen populations were sampled for allozyme analysis. Seventeen of these populations were also screened for variation at two paternally inherited chloroplast DNA microsatellite loci (cpSSR) and variation at one maternally inherited mitochondrial marker (nad4-3/4). Finally a subset of 11 populations was analysed with amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP). Comparisons were made with already available Abies sibirica data. For all sets of markers, we estimated genetic diversity and differentiation using an analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA). Population clustering was assessed with a Bayesian approach implemented in structure v.2.3.

Results  Among the three major species, A. sibirica, A. nephrolepis and A. sachalinensis, A. sachalinensis demonstrated the highest cytoplasmic and nuclear diversity and the most continental species, A. sibirica, the lowest. Both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers revealed the presence of a transitional zone on Sakhalin Island between A. nephrolepis and A. sachalinensis of south Sakhalin. The structure analysis delivered very clear results confirming the admixed origin of A. sachalinensis, with a genetic contribution from A. nephrolepis. No variation in cytoplasmic markers was found in A. gracilis, suggesting the occurrence of a recent bottleneck.

Main conclusions  There is a clear reduction of genetic diversity in Abies species from the Pacific coast into the continent. The higher diversity in A. sachalinensis could have two causes: a larger effective population size in the islands due to relatively stable climatic conditions and consequently less pronounced demographic fluctuations in population size and/or hybridization with continental and Japanese populations. Sakhalin Island is a major transitional zone for conifer species. Finally, the fir from Kamchatka, A. gracilis, should be regarded as a separate species closely related to the A. nephrolepisA. sachalinensis complex.