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Ann Bot. 2008 Nov;102(5):855-63. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcn164. Epub 2008 Sep 5.

Utility of multilocus genotypes for taxon assignment in stands of closely related European white oaks from Switzerland.

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  • 1WSL Swiss Federal Research Institute, Ecological Genetics and Evolution, Zürcherstrasse 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland.



European white oaks (Quercus petraea, Q. pubescens, Q. robur) have long puzzled plant biologists owing to disputed species differentiation. Extensive hybridization or shared ancestry have been proposed as alternative hypotheses to explain why genetic differentiation between these oak species is low. Species delimitation is usually weak and often shows gradual transitions in leaf morphology. Hence, individual identification may be difficult, but remains a critical step for both scientific work and practical management.


Multilocus genotype data (five nuclear microsatellites) were used from ten Swiss oak stands for taxon identification without a priori grouping of individuals or populations, using model-based Bayesian assignment tests.


Three groups best structured the data, indicating that the taxonomical signal was stronger than the spatial signal. Most individuals showed high posterior probabilities for either of three genetic groups that were best circumscribed as taxonomical units. The assignment of a subset of trees, whose taxonomic status had been previously characterized in detail, supported this classification scheme.


Molecular-genetic assignment tests are useful in the identification of species status in critical taxon complexes such as the European white oaks. Such an approach is of practical importance for forest management, e.g. for stand certification or in seed trade to trace the origin of forest products.

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