Genetic heterogeneity in age classes of naturally regenerated old growth forest of Picea abies (L.) Karst

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The Białowiez·a Primeval Forest is located northeastern Poland. It is one of Europe’s most precious old growth forests in terms of abundance and richness of vegetation, retaining features of a primeval lowland forest which cannot be found anywhere else on the European continent. The aim of the study was to assess the genetic heterogeneity of the naturally regenerated Picea abies population using five chloroplast microsatellite markers. In total, 290 trees representing five age classes were studied. Clear patterns of genetic differentiation in relation to demographic substructuring were found within the population. The class of embryos exhibited the greatest genetic richness as evident from the highest number of alleles and haplotypes, the highest mean number of private alleles and haplotypes and the highest haplotype diversity. In the subsequent age classes, a significant decrease in the level of genetic variation was observed. Our data demonstrate that long-lived, highly outcrossing tree species growing in continuous stands can be genetically heterogeneous on a small geographic scale. The heterogeneity is related to age structure and it is likely due to the underlying mating system and selection processes.

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