Evolutionary history of two endemic Appalachian conifers revealed using microsatellite markers
Fraser fir (Abies fraseri [Pursh] Poir.) and intermediate fir (Abies balsamea [L.] Mill. var. phanerolepis Fern.) exist in small populations in the Appalachian highlands of the southeastern United States. We used ten nuclear microsatellite markers to quantify genetic variation within Fraser fir and intermediate fir, and to examine their evolutionary relationships with the widespread balsam fir (Abies balsamea [L.] Mill.). We found little genetic differentiation among these taxa, suggesting that Fraser fir might best be classified as a variety of balsam fir. The results further appear to reject the hypothesis that intermediate fir was of hybrid origin between two comparatively distantly related species. Low levels of genetic diversity suggest that intermediate fir and Fraser fir have undergone at least some genetic degradation since post- Pleistocene isolation. The results may prove important for in situ and ex situ gene conservation efforts for Fraser fir and intermediate fir, which are imperiled by an exotic insect and by global climate change.