Reproduction and genetic diversity of Juniperus squamata along an elevational gradient in the Hengduan Mountains
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Elevation plays a crucial factor in the distribution of plants, as environmental conditions become increasingly harsh at higher elevations. Previous studies have mainly focused on the effects of large-scale elevational gradients on plants, with little attention on the impact of smaller-scale gradients. In this study we used 14 microsatellite loci to survey the genetic structure of 332 Juniperus squamata plants along elevation gradient from two sites in the Hengduan Mountains. We found that the genetic structure (single, clonal, mosaic) of J. squamata shrubs is affected by differences in elevational gradients of only 150 m. Shrubs in the mid-elevation plots rarely have a clonal or mosaic structure compared to shrubs in lower-or higher-elevation plots. Human activity can significantly affect genetic structure, as well as reproductive strategy and genetic diversity. Sub-populations at mid-elevations had the highest yield of seed cones, lower levels of asexual reproduction and higher levels of genetic diversity. This may be due to the trade-off between elevational stress and anthropogenic disturbance at mid-elevation since there is greater elevational stress at higher-elevations and greater intensity of anthropogenic disturbance at lower-elevations. Our findings provide new insights into the finer scale genetic structure of alpine shrubs, which may improve the conservation and management of shrublands, a major vegetation type on the Hengduan Mountains and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.Copyright (c) 2021 Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
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