This is a large scale investigation of morphological diversity in Juniperus excelsa excelsa. It offers complementary results to those obtained for the same populations using molecular markers. These two approaches are complementary and should be considered together in order to obtain a comprehensive view of the variability of J. excelsa excelsa.
Background and aims
Juniperus excelsa M.-Bieb. is a major forest element in the mountains of the eastern part of Mediterranean and sub-Mediterranean regions. This study comprises the first morphological investigation covering a large part of the geographical range of J. excelsa and aims to verify the congruency between the morphological results and molecular results of a previous study.
We studied 14 populations sampled from Greece, Cyprus, Ukraine, Turkey and Lebanon, 11 of which have previously been investigated using molecular markers. Three hundred and ninety-four individuals of J. excelsa were examined using nine biometric features characterizing cones, seeds and shoots, and eight derived ratios. Statistical analyses were conducted in order to evaluate the intra- and inter-population morphological variability.
The level of intra-population variability observed did not show any geographical trends. The total variation mostly depended on the ratios of cone diameter/seed width and seed width/seed length. The discrimination analysis, the Ward agglomeration method and barrier analysis results showed a separation of the sampled populations into three main clusters. These results confirmed, in part, the geographical differentiation revealed by molecular markers with a lower level of differentiation and a less clear geographical pattern. The most differentiated populations using both markers corresponded to old, isolated populations in the high altitudes of Lebanon (>2000 m). Moreover, a separation of the northern Turkish population from the southern Turkish populations was observed using both markers.
Morphological variation together with genetic and biogeographic studies make an effective tool for detecting relict plant populations and also populations subjected to more intensive selection.