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Abstract

Genetic diversity is often considered a major determinant of long term population persistence and its potential to adapt to variable environmental conditions. The ability of populations to maintain their genetic diversity across generations seems to be a major prerequisite for their sustainability, which is particularly important for keystone forest tree species. However, little is known about genetic consequences of demographic alterations occurring during natural processes of ecological succession involving changes in the species composition. Using microsatellites, we investigated genetic diversity of adult and offspring generations in beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) and oak (Quercus robur L.) populations coexisting in a naturally established old-growth forest stand, showing some symptoms of ongoing ecological succession from oak- to beech- dominated forest. In general, adult generations of both species exhibited high levels of genetic diversity (0.657 for beech; 0.821 for oak), which, however, depended on the sets of selected genetic markers. Nevertheless, several symptoms such as differences in genetic diversity indices between generations, significant levels of inbreeding (up to 0.029) and low estimates of effective population size (48-80) confirmed the declining status of the oak population. On the other hand, the uniform distribution of genetic diversity indices across generations, low levels of inbreeding (0.004), low genetic differentiation among adults and offspring and, most importantly, large estimates of effective population size (119-716), all supported beech as a successive and successful tree species in the studied forest stand.
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