At treeline, selection by harsh environmental conditions sets an upward limit to arboreal vegetation. Increasing temperatures and the decline of traditional animal raising have favoured an upward shift of treeline in the last decades. These circumstances create a unique opportunity to study the balance of the main forces (selection and gene flow) that drive tree migration. We conducted a parentage analysis sampling and genotyping with five microsatellite markers in all Norway spruce individuals (342 juveniles and 23 adults) found in a recently colonized treeline area (Paneveggio forest, Eastern Alps, Italy). Our goal was to evaluate local reproductive success versus gene flow from the outside. We were able to identify both parents among local adults for only 11.1% of the juveniles. In the gamete pool we sampled, two-thirds were not produced locally. Effective seed dispersal distance distribution was characterized by a peak far from the seed source (mean 344.66m±191.02 s.d.). Reproductive success was skewed, with six local adults that generated almost two-thirds (62.4%) of juveniles with local parents. Our findings indicate that, although a few local adults seem to play an important role in the colonization process at treeline, large levels of gene flow from outside were maintained, suggesting that the potential advantages of local adults (such as local adaptation, proximity to the colonization area, phenological synchrony) did not prevent a large gamete immigration.
Spruce colonization at treeline: where do those seeds come from? / Piotti, Andrea; Leonardi, Stefano; Piovani, P; Scalfi, M; Menozzi, Paolo. - In: HEREDITY. - ISSN 0018-067X. - 103(2009), pp. 136-145. [10.1038/hdy.2009.42]