Nuclear and cytoplasmic genetic diversity reveals long-term population decline in Abies semenovii, an endemic fir of central Asia
The genus Abies is one of the largest conifer genera and many of the marginal species remain poorly characterized. Abies semenovii B. Fedtsch. is a rare mountain fir species from central Asia, and its species status is still disputed. We used both nuclear (allozymes and AFLP) and chloroplastic (cpSSR) markers to show that A. semenovii deserves to be considered as a species and that its low genetic diversity justifies more a proactive conservation policy. First, A. semenovii was significantly differentiated from the Siberian fir Abies sibirica Ledeb. and we did not detect gene flow between the two species. Second, A. semenovii has a very low nuclear genetic diversity, suggesting a prolonged restricted effective population size. Abies semenovii had low cpSSR diversity too but the identification of seven closely related haplotypes suggests that these mutations accumulated recently during a phase of population expansion. This agrees well with the palynological record and is in contrast with the situation observed in another rare Eurasian fir endemic to Kamchatka, Abies gracilis Kom., which was devoid of variation in cpSSRs but that also had a more substantial nuclear marker diversity than A. semenovii, thereby suggesting a more recent but less severe population bottleneck.