Molecular biodiversity and population structure in common ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) in Britain: implications for conservation


Joan Cottrell, Fax: +44 131 445 5124; E-mail:


Current forestry policy promotes the use of local seed for new plantings, on the assumption that local material may be better adapted to local conditions. However, landscape-scale genetic studies which are necessary to underpin conservation and breeding strategies are often lacking. We investigated molecular diversity in common ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) sampled from 42 British and six French sites with microsatellites. Chloroplast haplotype H04 was the most common and widespread in Britain, although rare and localized individuals with H02 and H09 were also detected. In addition, three new chloroplast haplotypes were identified, and these were rare and highly localized. In terms of nuclear microsatellite markers, allelic richness differed between sites and decreased in an east to west direction. Differentiation between sites was often very low (mean FST 0.025), indicating few differences between the majority of sites. There was a clear excess of homozygotes (mean HO 0.669, mean HE 0.818) and a relatively high FIS (mean 0.182), suggests a consistent level of inbreeding or a widespread Wahlund effect in many F. excelsior sites. Gene pool ancestry analysis suggested that the majority of British F. excelsior belongs to a single meta-population which covers mainland western and central Europe. Three northern and western sites diverged markedly from the dominant population, and may represent remnants of two late potential Ice Age refugia in northern Britain. The data provide new information which will aid development of appropriate conservation policies for ash and other wind pollinated tree species.