High Morphological Differentiation in Crown Architecture Contrasts with Low Population Genetic Structure of German Norway Spruce Stands
Department of Forest Genetics and Forest Tree Breeding, Büsgen-Institute, Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology, University of Göttingen, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
Department of Forest Genetic Resources, Northwest German Forest Research Institute (NW-FVA), 34346 Hann. Münden, Germany
Service and Competence Centre of Thüringen Forst, 99867 Gotha, Germany
Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77840, USA
Laboratory of population genetics, Vavilov Institute of General Genetics, Russian Academy of Sciences, 119991 Moscow, Russia
Genome Research and Education Centre, Siberian Federal University, 660036 Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2018, 9(12), 752; https://doi.org/10.3390/f9120752
Received: 21 November 2018 / Revised: 28 November 2018 / Accepted: 30 November 2018 / Published: 4 December 2018
(This article belongs to the Section Forest Ecology and Management)
High elevation sites in the low mountain ranges in Germany are naturally covered by Norway spruce (Picea abies (Karst.) L.) stands. Historically, large scale anthropogenic range expansion starting in the mid to late 18th century had a huge impact on the forest composition throughout Germany. Utilisation and exploitation often led to artificial regeneration, mostly carried out using seeds from allochthonous provenances. Usually, autochthonous (natural) high elevation Norway spruce trees have narrow crown phenotypes, whereas lowland trees have broader crowns. Narrow crown phenotypes are likely the result of adaptation to heavy snow loads combined with high wind speeds. In the present study, neighbouring stand pairs of putative autochthonous and allochthonous origin with contrasting phenotypes in high elevation sites were investigated with 200 samples each. These stands are located in the Ore Mountains, the Thuringian Forest, and the Harz Mountains. Additionally, a relict population with the typical narrow high elevation phenotypes was sampled in Thuringia, known as “Schlossbergfichte”. The objective of the study was to quantify supposedly adaptive phenotypic differences in crown architecture and the genetic differentiation of 11 putatively neutral nuclear microsatellite markers (i.e., simple sequence repeats (nSSRs)). The high differentiation of morphological traits (PST = 0.952–0.989) between the neighbouring autochthonous and allochthonous stands of similar age contrasts with the very low neutral genetic differentiation (FST = 0.002–0.007; G″ST = 0.002–0.030), suggesting that directional selection at adaptive gene loci was involved in phenotypic differentiation. Comparing the regions, a small isolation by distance effect for the Harz Mountains was detected, suggesting landscape resistance restricting gene flow. Finally, the differentiation of the very old autochthonous (up to 250 years) stand “Schlossbergfichte” with typical high elevation phenotypes could cohere with the sampling of a relict genepool.