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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • conservation genetics;
  • ecological;
  • emerging infectious disease genetics;
  • invasive species

Abstract

An emerging infectious pathogen Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus has spread across much of Europe within recent years causing devastating damage on European common ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) and associated plant communities. The present study demonstrates the presence of additive genetic variation in susceptibility of natural F. excelsior populations to the new invasive disease. We observe high levels of additive variation in the degree of susceptibility with relatively low influence of environmental factors (narrow-sense heritability = 0.37–0.52). Most native trees are found to be highly susceptible, and we estimate that only around 1% has the potential of producing offspring with expected crown damage of <10% under the present disease pressure. The results suggest that the presence of additive genetic diversity in natural F. excelsior populations can confer the species with important ability to recover, but that low resistance within natural European populations is to be expected because of a low frequency of the hypo-sensitive trees. Large effective population sizes will be required to avoid genetic bottlenecks. The role of artificial selection and breeding for protection of the species is discussed based on the findings.