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Keywords:

  • ancient DNA;
  • DNA sequence;
  • microsatellite;
  • palaeobiology;
  • pollen;
  • population history

Abstract

Assessments of plant population dynamics in space and time have depended on dated records of fossil pollen synthesized on a subcontinental scale. Genetic analyses of extant populations have revealed spatial relationships that are indicative of past spatial dynamics, but lack an explicit timescale. Synthesis of these data requires genetic analyses from abundant dated fossil material, and this has hitherto been lacking. Fossil pollen is the most abundant material with which to fill this data gap. Here we report genetic analyses of fossil pollen retrieved from Holtjärnen postglacial lake sediment in Sweden and show that plastid DNA is recoverable from Scots Pine and Norway spruce pollen grains that are 100 and 10 000 years old. By sequencing clones from two short plastid PCR products and by using multiple controls we show that the ancient sequences were endogenous to the fossil grains. Comparison of ancient sequences and those obtained from an extant population of Scots pine establishes the first genetic link between extant and fossil samples in this species, providing genetic continuity through time. The finding of one common haplotype present in modern, 100-year old and 10 000-year old samples suggests that it may have persisted near Holtjärnen throughout the postglacial period. This retrieval of ancient DNA from pollen has major implications for plant palaeoecology in conifer species by allowing direct estimates of population dynamics in space and time.