Habitat fragmentation threatens the maintenance of genetic diversity of affected populations. Assessment of the risks associated with habitat fragmentation is a big challenge as the change in population genetic diversity is a dynamic process, often acting over long time periods and depending on various characteristics pertaining to both species (life history traits) and their populations (extrinsic characteristics). With this survey, we provide an introductory overview for persons who have to make or are interested in making predictions about the fate of forest-dwelling plant populations which have recently become fragmented and isolated from their main occurrences. We provide a concise introduction to the field of population genetics focusing on terms, processes and phenomena relevant to the maintenance of genetic diversity and vitality of plant populations. In particular the antagonistic effects of gene flow and random genetic drift are covered. A special chapter is devoted to Central European tree species (including the Carpathians) which we treat in detail with reference to an extensive literature survey on population genetic studies assembled from the whole of Europe. We further provide an overview of the population biology of associated understorey species. We conclude with recommended steps to be taken for the evaluation of potential perils of habitat fragmentation or population thinning for the genetics of tree populations. The complexity of effects exerted by life history traits and extrinsic characteristics of populations suggest population genetic development is strongly situation dependent. Therefore, we recommend following a case-by-case approach ideally supported by computer simulations to predict future population genetic development of both trees and associated understorey species.
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