Journal Article

Effect of altitude on the genetic structure of an Alpine grass, <i>Poa hiemata</i>

Sean G. Byars, Yvonne Parsons and Ary A. Hoffmann

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 6, pages 885-899
Published in print April 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online February 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Effect of altitude on the genetic structure of an Alpine grass, Poa hiemata

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

The persistence of plants inhabiting restricted alpine areas under climate change will depend upon many factors including levels of genetic variation in adaptive traits, population structure, and breeding system.


Using microsatellite markers, the genetic structure of populations of a relatively common alpine grass, Poa hiemata, is examined across three altitudinal gradients within the restricted Australian alpine zone where this species has previously been shown to exhibit local adaptation across a narrow altitudinal gradient.

Key Results

Genetic variation across six microsatellite markers revealed genetic structuring along altitudinal transects, and a reduction in genetic variation at high and low altitude extremes relative to sites central within transects. There was less genetic variation among transect sites compared with altitudinal gradients within transects, even though distances among transects were relatively larger. Central sites within transects were less differentiated than those at extremes.


These patterns suggest higher rates of gene flow among sites at similar altitudes than along transects, a process that could assist altitudinal adaptation. Patterns of spatial autocorrelation and isolation by distance changed with altitude and may reflect altered patterns of dispersal via pollen and/or seed. There was evidence for selfing and clonality in neighbouring plants. Levels of gene flow along transects were insufficient to prevent adaptive changes in morphological traits, given previously measured levels of selection.

Keywords: Poa hiemata; genetic structure; altitudinal gradient; microsatellite; gene flow; climate change

Journal Article.  9374 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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