• genetic differentiation;
  • glaciations;
  • Iberian Peninsula;
  • Populus;
  • QST > FST;
  • spatial genetic structure


Recent phylogeographic studies have elucidated the effects of Pleistocene glaciations and of Pre-Pleistocene events on populations from glacial refuge areas. This study investigates those effects in riparian trees (Populus spp.), whose particular features may convey enhanced resistance to climate fluctuations. We analysed the phylogeographic structure of 44 white (Populus alba), 13 black (Populus nigra) and two grey (Populus x canescens) poplar populations in the Iberian Peninsula using plastid DNA microsatellites and sequences. We also assessed fine-scale spatial genetic structure and the extent of clonality in four white and one grey poplar populations using nuclear microsatellites and we determined quantitative genetic differentiation (QST) for growth traits in white poplar. Black poplar displayed higher regional diversity and lower differentiation than white poplar, reflecting its higher cold-tolerance. The dependence of white poplar on phreatic water was evidenced by strong differentiation between the Atlantic and Mediterranean drainage basins and among river basins, and by weaker isolation by distance within than among river basins. Our results suggest confinement to the lower river courses during glacial periods and moderate interglacial gene exchange along coastlines. In northern Iberian river basins, white poplar had lower diversity, fewer private haplotypes and larger clonal assemblies than in southern basins, indicating a stronger effect of glaciations in the north. Despite strong genetic structure and frequent asexual propagation in white poplar, some growth traits displayed adaptive divergence between drainage and river basins (QST > FST), highlighting the remarkable capacity of riparian tree populations to adapt to regional environmental conditions.