AFLP markers reveal high clonal diversity and extreme longevity in four key arctic-alpine species


Lucienne C. de Witte, Fax: +41 (0)612 673504; E-mail:


We investigated clonal diversity, genet size structure and genet longevity in populations of four arctic-alpine plants (Carex curvula, Dryas octopetala, Salix herbacea and Vaccinium uliginosum) to evaluate their persistence under past climatic oscillations and their potential resistance to future climate change. The size and number of genets were determined by an analysis of amplified fragment length polymorphisms and a standardized sampling design in several European arctic-alpine populations, where these species are dominant in the vegetation. Genet age was estimated by dividing the size by the annual horizontal size increment from in situ growth measurements. Clonal diversity was generally high but differed among species, and the frequency distribution of genet size was strongly left-skewed. The largest C. curvula genet had an estimated minimum age of c. 4100 years and a maximum age of c. 5000 years, although 84.8% of the genets in this species were <200 years old. The oldest genets of D. octopetala, S. herbacea and V. uliginosum were found to be at least 500, 450 and 1400 years old, respectively. These results indicate that individuals in the studied populations have survived pronounced climatic oscillations, including the Little Ice Age and the postindustrial warming. The presence of genets in all size classes and the dominance of presumably young individuals suggest repeated recruitment over time, a precondition for adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Together, persistence and continuous genet turnover may ensure maximum ecosystem resilience. Thus, our results indicate that long-lived clonal plants in arctic-alpine ecosystems can persist, despite considerable climatic change.