Long-term persistence in a changing climate: DNA analysis suggests very old ages of clones of alpine Carex curvula
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- Steinger, T., Körner, C. & Schmid, B. Oecologia (1996) 105: 94. doi:10.1007/BF00328796
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Carex curvula is a very slow-growing rhizomatous sedge that forms extensive stands in the European an alpine belt. The recruitment of sexual progeny is extremely rare and propagation occurs predominantly through clonal growth. The randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) technique was used to analyse clonal structure in a small patch (2.0x0.4 m sampling transect plus some additional samples) of a high-alpine population of the species. Amplification of the DNA of 116 tiller samples from the patch with eight ten-base primers yielded a total of 95 bands, of which 73 were polymorphic. Based on the RAPD amplification profiles a total of 15 multilocus genotypes (putative clones) were identified. Due to the high number of polymorphic loci the number of genetic markers delineating individual clones was high (range: 16–39 markers) which suggests that our estimates of clonal diversity are precise. More than half of the sampled tillers were identified as belonging to a single clone which formed a relatively homogeneous disc intermingling with other clones only at its margin. Based on the maximum diameter of this large clone of more than 7000 tillers and estimates of annual expansion growth of rhizomes (0.4 mm year-1), the age of the clone was calculated to be around 2000 years. This demonstrates that clones of C. curvula may persist on a single spot over long periods with quite diverse alpine climates ranging from rather mild periods in the Middle Ages to cool periods during the so called “little ice age” in the last century. Our results suggest caution with plant migration scenarios based on shifting isotherms where late-successional clonal species, which dominate the alpine vegetation all over the world, are concerned.