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Assessing the relationship between height growth and molecular genetic variation in Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) provenances

Abstract

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is a conifer tree native to western North America. In central Europe, it shows superior growth performance and is considered a suitable substitute for tree species impaired in vitality due to climate change. Maintenance and improvement of growth performance in a changing environment is a main challenge for forest tree breeders. In this context, genetic variation as a factor underlying phenotypic variation, but also as the basis for future adaptation, is of particular interest. The aims of this study were to analyse (1) genetic diversity of selected Douglas-fir provenances, (2) variation in height growth among provenances, and (3) to assess the link between genetic and phenotypic variation in height growth. Genotyping was done on microsatellite loci. Effects of ‘provenance’, ‘genotype’, and ‘site’ on height growth were assessed by fitting mixed linear models. The most significant genetic differentiation was observed between provenances of the coastal variety, versus a provenance of the interior variety originating from British Columbia. Although genetic differentiation among provenances of the coastal variety was lower, genetic structures within this variety were identified. Moreover, genetic diversity showed a latitudinal gradient with the southernmost provenances being more diverse, probably reflecting the species’ evolutionary history. The modelling approach revealed that height growth differed significantly by ‘provenance’, ‘site’, and the interaction between ‘site’ and ‘provenance’. Additionally, this analysis showed that genetic variation captured by the genotyped microsatellite loci was significantly related to variation in height growth, providing statistical evidence for a genetic component in the observed phenotypic variation.

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Acknowledgments

The study sites are part of the International Douglas-fir provenance trial, initiated by Prof. R. Schober after a decision of the Unit of Forest Growth of the German Association of Forest Research Stations (DFFVA). The German federal state of Baden-Württemberg joined this provenance trial series in 1961 with test plantations at 15 locations, of which ten are currently still active and supervised by the Forest Research Institute of Baden-Württemberg (FVA). Seeds for the experiments were collected in 1955 by B. Strehlke from autochthonous stands in North America and from selected cone-bearing stands growing in south-western Germany judged by forest practitioners to display vigorous growth. We thank Dr. Axel Albrecht for helpful discussions. This study was financially supported by the Forest Research Institute Baden-Württemberg with funding to I.E., U.K., H.W., and by the German Science Foundation (DFG) with grants to U.K. (KO 931/8-1) and I.E. (EN 829/4-1) as part of the collaborative project DougAdapt (PAK 583/468).

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Correspondence to Henning Wildhagen.

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Charalambos Neophytou and Anna-Maria Weisser have contributed equally to the work.

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Neophytou, C., Weisser, AM., Landwehr, D. et al. Assessing the relationship between height growth and molecular genetic variation in Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) provenances. Eur J Forest Res 135, 465–481 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10342-016-0946-y

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Keywords

  • Douglas-fir
  • Conifer
  • Microsatellite marker
  • SSR marker
  • Provenance
  • Height growth
  • Genetic diversity
  • Genetic differentiation
  • Climate
  • Mixed linear modelling