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Ann Bot. 2005 Dec;96(7):1237-46. Epub 2005 Sep 30.

Species distinction in Irish populations of Quercus petraea and Q. robur: morphological versus molecular analyses.

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  • 1Department of Botany, Trinity College, School of Natural Sciences, University of Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland.



Populations of oak (Quercus petraea and Q. robur) were investigated using morphological and molecular (AFLP) analyses to assess species distinction. The study aimed to describe species distinction in Irish oak populations and to situate this in a European context.


Populations were sampled from across the range of the island of Ireland. Leaf morphological characters were analysed through clustering and ordination methods. Putative neutral molecular markers (AFLPs) were used to analyse the molecular variation. Cluster and ordination analyses were also performed on the AFLP markers in addition to calculations of genetic diversity and F-statisitcs.


A notable divergence was uncovered between the morphological and molecular analyses. The morphological analysis clearly differentiated individuals into their respective species, whereas the molecular analysis did not. Twenty species-specific AFLP markers were observed from 123 plants in 24 populations but none of these was species-diagnostic. Principal Coordinate Analysis of the AFLP data revealed a clustering, across the first two axes, of individuals according to population rather than according to species. High F(ST) values calculated from AFLP markers also indicated population differentiation (F(ST) = 0.271). Species differentiation accounted for only 13 % of the variation in diversity compared with population differentiation, which accounted for 27 %.


The results show that neutral molecular variation is partitioned more strongly between populations than between species. Although this could indicate that the populations of Q. petraea and Q. robur studied may not be distinct species at a molecular level, it is proposed that the difficulty in distinguishing the species in Irish oak populations using AFLP markers is due to population differentiation masking species differences. This could result from non-random mating in small, fragmented woodland populations. Hybridization and introgression between the species could also have a significant role.

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