• bottlenecks;
  • butternut;
  • climate change;
  • genetic diversity;
  • range shifts


The spatial distribution of genetic diversity is a product of recent and historical ecological processes, as well as anthropogenic activities. A current challenge in population and conservation genetics is to disentangle the relative effects of these processes, as a first step in predicting population response to future environmental change. In this investigation, we compare the influence of contemporary population decline, contemporary ecological marginality and postglacial range shifts. Using classical model comparison procedures and Bayesian methods, we have identified postglacial range shift as the clear determinant of genetic diversity, differentiation and bottlenecks in 29 populations of butternut, Juglans cinerea L., a North American outcrossing forest tree. Although butternut has experienced dramatic 20th century decline because of an introduced fungal pathogen, our analysis indicates that recent population decline has had less genetic impact than postglacial recolonization history. Location within the range edge vs. the range core also failed to account for the observed patterns of diversity and differentiation. Our results suggest that the genetic impact of large-scale recent population losses in forest trees should be considered in the light of Pleistocene-era large-scale range shifts that may have had long-term genetic consequences. The data also suggest that the population dynamics and life history of wind-pollinated forest trees may provide a buffer against steep population declines of short duration, a result having important implications for habitat management efforts, ex situ conservation sampling and population viability analysis.