The sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa
Mill.) is an important species of European trees, studied for both ecological and economic reasons. Its cultivation in the Italian peninsula can be linked to the Roman period and has been documented, especially in the Tuscan region, for centuries. We sampled 131 grafted trees from three separate areas to determine the genetic variability between populations and assess genetic identity for different varieties of trees, which is useful for future breeding programs and propagation efforts. Molecular analyses were performed using eight microsatellite loci. A total of 98 alleles was detected with an average of 12.3 alleles per locus. We found high levels of genetic diversity within the varieties of the same area, ranging between He
= 0.682–0.745. Of the eight loci, seven were found to be at Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. (FST
values Differentiation between cultivation areas was significant between 0.052–0.147) with the two Southern Tuscan areas showing the closest relationship as also indicated by Bayesian inference of the population structure, which revealed the existence of three ancestral gene pools of origin. Demographic events were detected by a coalescent-based approximate Bayesian computation in two of the homogeneous clusters. This work is a step forward for the conservation of this iconic species, albeit at a regional level, as chestnut varieties have never received the full attention of breeders.
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