Population genetic structure, genetic diversity, and natural history of the South American species of Nothofagus
Abstract: The effect of glaciation on the levels and patterns of genetic variation has been well studied in the Northern Hemisphere. However, although glaciation has undoubtedly shaped the genetic structure of plants in the Southern Hemisphere, fewer studies have characterized the effect, and almost none of them using microsatellites. Particularly, complex patterns of genetic structure might be expected in areas such as the Andes, where both latitudinal and altitudinal glacial advance and retreat have molded modern plant communities. We therefore studied the population genetics of three closely related, hybridizing species of Nothofagus (N. obliqua, N. alpina, and N. glauca, all of subgenus Lophozonia; Nothofagaceae) from Chile. To estimate population genetic parameters and infer the influence of the last ice age on the spatial and genetic distribution of these species, we examined and analyzed genetic variability at seven polymorphic microsatellite DNA loci in 640 individuals from 40 populations covering most of the ranges of these species in Chile. Populations showed no significant inbreeding and exhibited relatively high levels of genetic diversity (HE = 0.502–0.662) and slight, but significant, genetic structure (RST = 8.7–16.0%). However, in N. obliqua, the small amount of genetic structure was spatially organized into three well-defined latitudinal groups. Our data may also suggest some introgression of N. alpina genes into N. obliqua in the northern populations. These results allowed us to reconstruct the influence of the last ice age on the genetic structure of these species, suggesting several centers of genetic diversity for N. obliqua and N. alpina, in agreement with the multiple refugia hypothesis.