Original Paper

Theoretical and Applied Genetics

, Volume 120, Issue 6, pp 1151-1162

First online:

Evidence for genetic differentiation and divergent selection in an autotetraploid forage grass (Arrhenatherum elatius)

  • Stefan Georg MichalskiAffiliated withDepartment of Community Ecology (BZF), UFZ, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research Email author 
  • , Walter DurkaAffiliated withDepartment of Community Ecology (BZF), UFZ, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
  • , Anke JentschAffiliated withGeoecology and Physical Geography, University of Koblenz-Landau
  • , Juergen KreylingAffiliated withBiogeography, University of Bayreuth
  • , Sven PompeAffiliated withMax Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
  • , Oliver SchweigerAffiliated withDepartment of Community Ecology (BZF), UFZ, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research
  • , Evelin WillnerAffiliated withGenebank Satellite Collections North, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research
  • , Carl BeierkuhnleinAffiliated withBiogeography, University of Bayreuth

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The use of local provenances in restoration, agriculture and forestry has been identified as measure to sustain biological diversity and to improve local productivity. However, the delineation of regional provenances is challenging because it requires the identification of well-defined groups based on spatiogenetic differentiation and/or the evidence of local adaptation. In this study, we investigate genetic variation at 186 AFLP loci in 46 European accessions of the important grassland species Arrhenatherum elatius and ask (1) whether genetic variation within accessions differs between European geographical regions; (2) at which spatial scale populations are structured across Europe and (3) whether putatively adaptive markers contribute to this pattern and whether these markers can be related to climatic site conditions. Basic expectations of population genetics are likely to be altered in autotetraploid species, thus, we adopted a band-based approach to estimate genetic diversity and structuring. Compared to other grasses A. elatius showed high genetic diversity and considerable differentiation among accessions (ΦST = 0.24). Accessions separated in a Western European and a Central/Eastern European group, without further structure within groups. A genome scan approach identified four potentially adaptive loci, whose band frequencies correlated significantly with climatic parameters, suggesting that genetic differentiation in A. elatius is also the result of adaptive processes. Knowledge on adaptive loci might in the long run also help to adapt ecosystems to adverse climate change effects through assisted migration of ecotypes rather than introduction of new species.