Clinal variation along precipitation gradients in Patagonian temperate forests: unravelling demographic and selection signatures in three Nothofagus spp.

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Key message

Past demographic changes and current selection pressures determine the genetic variation displayed by Nothofagus species along rainfall gradients. Based on the diversity trends observed at candidate genes associated to drought stress, we inferred a differential species’ adaptive potential.


Clinal genetic variation in natural populations could reflect either recent demographic history or the evolution of adapted genotypes along heterogeneous environments.


We describe genetic variation patterns in three Nothofagus species of South American temperate forests, growing along steep rainfall gradients. Our hypothesis is that the selection pressure along this gradient reinforces the genetic structure previously shaped by Pleistocene climate oscillations.


We screened variation along gradients at putative adaptive markers: candidate genes involved in response to drought, and EST-SSRs linked to drought stress genes. Genomic SSRs (gSSRs) were used to decouple the incidence of demographic events in the genetic structure.


Genetic diversity at SSRs agreed with the putative location of cryptic Pleistocene refugia in Nothofagus. In addition, each species showed different trends for nucleotide diversity at candidate genes. Unbiased heterozygosity significantly correlated with precipitation at EST-SSRs in Nothofagus nervosa. We found evidences of balancing selection and several SNPs departed from neutral expectations.


Nothofagus genetic variability shows a strong imprint of demographic changes that reveals refugia location for the species during Pleistocene. This variability is modelled by environmental conditions across natural gradients, which impose selection pressure at genome regions related to stress response, providing clues about inter-specific differences in adaptive potential to water deficit.

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Data availability

Individual gene sequences were deposited to GeneBank ( Accession numbers MF446356-MF446390; Multilocus SSRs genotypes, candidate genes genotypes and the supplementary material were deposited in Zenodo repository (Soliani et al. 2019):


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We thank Dr. Georgina Sola for kindly providing the microsatellite genotypes of the Quilanlahue Population, Fernando Umaña and Victoria Lantschner for drawing up the maps of sampled populations, Alejandro Aparicio for statistical support in R, Katharina Budde for critical reading of the manuscript and Jill T. Sekely for English editing.


This work was funded by Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica (ANPCyT - FONCyT), Argentina [grant numbers PICT 2011 N° 2250 and PICT 2013 N°0603].

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Correspondence to Carolina Soliani.

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Carolina Soliani, María Marta Azpilicueta, María Verónica Arana and Paula Marchelli conceived and designed the experiments; Carolina Soliani performed the experiments, analyzed the data and wrote the first version of the manuscript and all authors contributed to the writing and revision of the final manuscript.

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Soliani, C., Azpilicueta, M.M., Arana, M.V. et al. Clinal variation along precipitation gradients in Patagonian temperate forests: unravelling demographic and selection signatures in three Nothofagus spp.. Annals of Forest Science 77, 4 (2020) doi:10.1007/s13595-019-0908-x

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  • Rainfall gradient
  • Genetic diversity
  • Candidate genes
  • Drought stress
  • Nothofagus
  • Evolutionary history