Allozyme variation and recent evolutionary history of eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in the southeastern United States
Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis [L.] Carr.) is a widespread and ecologically important conifer species of eastern North America that is threatened by the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae Annand), a pest introduced into the United States from Asia in the 1920s. Information about the genetic composition of eastern hemlock is necessary to guide ex situ conservation efforts in the southeastern United States, where the species is expected to harbor relatively high amounts of genetic variation in areas of Pleistocene glacial refuge. Nineteen allozyme markers were used to quantify the genetic variation present in 20 eastern hemlock populations in the southeastern United States. Results indicate that the species has low levels of genetic diversity in the region compared to most other conifers, but greater population differentiation (FST = 0.126). Populations along the eastern periphery and in the Appalachian interior exhibited higher levels of diversity than those along the western periphery of its geographic range. The results suggest that the glacial refuge area for eastern hemlock was likely located east of the southern Appalachian Mountains, and indicate that ex situ conservation seed collections should be concentrated in these areas of higher diversity.