Canadian Forest Service Publications
Old-growth red spruce forests as reservoirs of genetic diversity and reproductive fitness. 2003. Mosseler, A.; Major, J.E.; Rajora, O.P. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 106: 931-937.
Issued by: Atlantic Forestry Centre
Catalog ID: 22799
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Old-growth forests are assumed to be potential reservoirs of genetic diversity for the dominant tree species, yet there is little empirical evidence for this assumption. Our aim was to characterize the relationship of stand traits, such as age, height and stem diameter, with the genetic and reproductive status of old-growth and older second-growth stands of red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) in eastern Canada. We found strong relationships between height growth (a fitness trait) and measures of genetic diversity based on allozyme analyses in red spruce. The negative relationship between height and the proportion of rare alleles suggests that high proportions of these rare alleles may be deleterious to growth performance. Latent genetic potential, however, showed a significant and positive relationship with height. Stand age was not correlated to height, but was correlated to seedling progeny height. In late-successional species such as red spruce, age and size (e.g., height and stem diameter) relationships may be strongly influenced by local stand disturbance dynamics that determine availability of light, growing space, moisture and nutrients. In larger and older stands, age appeared to provide a good surrogate measure or indicator for genetic diversity and progeny height growth. However, in smaller and more isolated populations, these age and fitness relationships may be strongly influenced by the effects of inbreeding and genetic drift. Therefore, older populations or old-growth forests may represent superior seed sources, but only if they are also of sufficient size and structure (e.g., stem density and spatial family structure) to avoid the effects of inbreeding and genetic drift. Thus, larger and older forests appear to have an important evolutionary role as reservoirs of both genetic diversity and reproductive fitness. Given the rapid environmental changes anticipated (as a result of climate change, increasing population isolation through fragmentation, or following the introduction of exotic pests and diseases) these older populations of trees may have a valuable function in maintaining the adaptive potential of tree species.