Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

Karen E Mock


Karen E Mock


James N. Long


Paul G. Wolf


Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) has the largest natural distribution of any tree native to North America, ranging from Alaska through the breadth of Canada and south to mid-Mexico. The Laurentide ice sheet occupied most of the current range of P. tremuloides until the late Pleistocene epoch, so this species has undergone a significant, geologically recent range expansion. Surprisingly, range-wide patterns of genetic variation in P. tremuloides have never been described. Using a sample set representing the full longitudinal and latitudinal extent of the species distribution, I have conducted a phylogeographic analysis for P. tremuloides. Preliminary results comparing both nuclear and chloroplast DNA sequences revealed surprisingly low levels of divergence across the range. Because of this remarkably shallow genetic divergence among aspen populations, I used a set of rapidly-evolving molecular markers (microsatellites) to describe patterns of gene flow and diversity and to correlate those patterns with landscape features and histories. I analyzed eight microsatellite loci in 794 individuals from 30 sampling sites. From this multilocus data set, I identified pronounced genetic structuring across the range. Strikingly, sampling sites representing the southwestern portion of the range, the western United States and Mexico, form a distinct cluster. Sites within this southwestern cluster display dramatically reduced within-site genetic diversity but elevated regional genetic diversity, which suggests that populations in the southwestern portion of the range make up a stable edge persisting through multiple climate oscillations. Based on the uniqueness of the southwestern cluster and the climatic differences between the southwest and northern portions of the range, I propose that the southwestern cluster may represent a distinct ecotype. I also identified hotspots of diversity that correspond with potential refugia during the last glacial maximum but additional work is needed to refine these patterns. Further, my findings provide a solid foundation for a range of future studies on adaptive genetic and trait variation in this species.




This work made publicly available electronically on July 30, 2012.