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Extant population genetic variation and structure of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus L.) in the Southern Appalachians

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Abstract

Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus L.) is a widespread conifer in eastern North America. A novel dieback phenomenon, as well as increasing global temperatures contributing to the contraction of suitable habitat, is threatening this species’ long-term persistence in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. This southern extent of its current range is where P. strobus is hypothesized to have survived in refugial populations during the last glacial maximum. As a result, extant populations located here may have higher levels of ancestral genetic diversity, and by extension, adaptive potential. We genotyped 432 P. strobus individuals from 23 sites throughout the Southern Appalachians and another 34 individuals from two reference populations in the northern USA, using 10 established microsatellite markers. Levels of genetic diversity in the southern portion of the range were comparable but not higher than reference northern populations. There was an overall heterozygote deficiency and high inbreeding coefficient (FIS = 0.173); however, these values were comparable to published research of P. strobus throughout the northern range. There was low overall genetic differentiation (FST = 0.055) among populations in the Southern Appalachians and population structure was best explained by ecoregions. These results show that P. strobus in the Southern Appalachians is a fairly heterogenous and admixed species with relatively high genetic diversity mostly partitioned within populations. The Southern Appalachians remains an important area for P. strobus conservation, but not necessarily because it is genetically unique.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to those who assisted with P. strobus sampling: Chris Asaro (USDA Forest Service), Brittany Barnes (University of Georgia), Megan Bartz (USDA Forest Service), Amanda Block (USDA Forest Service), William Caudill (USDA Forest Service), Lori Chamberlain (Virginia Department of Forestry), Beth Christensen (USDA Forest Service), Kara Costanza (University of New Brunswick), Don Grosman (Arborjet), TJ Hall (Pennsylvania DCNR), Bob Heyd (USDA Forest Service), Erica Roberts (USDA Forest Service), Derek Robertson (USDA Forest Service), Laura Vincent (USDA Forest Service), and Joe White (USDA Forest Service). We also thank Nathan Havill, Joseph Nairn, Kenneth Ross, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This research was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station (13CA11330129056 and 16CS11330129045), Southern Region-Forest Health Protection, and the University of Georgia (2015) Innovative and Interdisciplinary Research Grant.

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Microsatellite genotypes at all loci for all samples can be found in the supplementary information (Table S4).

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Correspondence to Thomas D. Whitney.

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Whitney, T.D., Gandhi, K.J.K., Hamrick, J.L. et al. Extant population genetic variation and structure of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus L.) in the Southern Appalachians. Tree Genetics & Genomes 15, 74 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11295-019-1380-3

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Keywords

  • Conservation
  • Genetic differentiation
  • Genetic diversity
  • Last glacial maximum
  • Microsatellites
  • Refugium