Adaptive and neutral variation of the resprouter Nothofagus antarctica growing in distinct habitats in north-western Patagonia
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N. antarctica occurs in the widest range of habitat types among all South American Nothofagus. The aim of this Study is to investigate adaptive responses by variation in morphological (tree form and leaf characters), and environmental traits (soils) of the polymorphic N. antarctica. Also we analyze the effect of genetic drift and limited gene flow in such predominantly apomict by means of neutral variation (isozymes). We studied four potentially different morphological variants each associated with a separate habitat 1) an arboreal variant growing in optimal environments; 2) a sparsely branched variant of temporarily flooded basins or flats; 3) a dwarf variant growing at high elevation, and 4) a shrub-like variant inhabiting matorral environments. The study was restricted latitudinally to Nahuel Huapi National Park, Argentina. For each habitat type we investigated two sites. Nothofagus antarctica shows locally occurring phenotypes. The forest and the high elevation variants were morphologically distinct from the matorral and the basin types. The latter were undistinguishable except for more profuse branching in the matorral type as a result of sprouting due to recent fires. Isozyme evidence indicates a great deal of within-population genetic diversity which is maintained by outcrossing and significant among-site divergence (F-ST = 18%) that reflects limited gene flow. The apparent high phenotypic and genetic variability in N. antarctica is due to both plasticity and genotypic effects as a result of stable population structure and long periods of isolation which may be reinforced by selection at diverse biotopes.