Climate is one of the most important drivers of local adaptation in forest tree species. Standing levels of genetic diversity and structure within and among natural populations of forest trees are determined by the interplay between climatic heterogeneity and the balance between selection and gene flow. To investigate this interplay, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were genotyped in 24 to 37 populations from four subalpine conifers, Abies alba Mill., Larix decidua Mill., Pinus cembra L. and Pinus mugo Turra, across their natural ranges in the Italian Alps and Apennines. Patterns of population structure were apparent using a Bayesian clustering program, STRUCTURE, which identified three to five genetic groups per species. Geographical correlates with these patterns, however, were only apparent for P. cembra. Multivariate environmental variables [i.e. principal components (PCs)] were subsequently tested for association with SNPs using a Bayesian generalized linear mixed model. The majority of the SNPs, ranging from six in L. decidua to 18 in P. mugo, were associated with PC1, corresponding to winter precipitation and seasonal minimum temperature. In A. alba, four SNPs were associated with PC2, corresponding to the seasonal minimum temperature. Functional annotation of those genes with the orthologs in Arabidopsis revealed several genes involved in abiotic stress response. This study provides a detailed assessment of population structure and its association with environment and geography in four coniferous species in the Italian mountains.
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