Background and Aims: The Alpine Meadow Grass Poa alpina is common in subalpine and alpine natural sites and agriculturally used land, where it is an important fodder grass. Natural factors and human land use are supposed to have been shaping its genetic diversity for hundreds of years. The species comprises sexually and vegetatively reproducing plants. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of agricultural land use, environmental factors and the mode of reproduction on the distribution of its microsatellite diversity within and among populations and to analyse whether its genetic diversity is correlated with plant species diversity in grassland parcels.
Methods: Genetic diversity of P. alpina was assessed with five microsatellite markers for 569 plants originating from 20 natural sites and from 54 grassland parcels of different cultural tradition, land use and altitude in the Swiss Alps. Due to polyploidy and frequent aneuploidy of the species, data analyses were based on the presence of microsatellite bands.
Key Results: A low but significant differentiation was found in microsatellite bands among natural sites and agriculturally used parcels, while their microsatellite band diversity within populations did not differ. An increased differentiation was found in microsatellite bands with increasing geographic distance among parcels, and a differentiation among grazed and mown parcels, and among sexually and vegetatively reproducing populations. Band richness of sampled plants per village was higher for villages where parcels represented more different land-use types. Within populations, microsatellite band diversity was higher in grazed than in mown parcels.
Conclusions: The diversity of human land use in the Alps was associated with genetic diversity of P. alpina. Therefore, the ongoing socio-economically motivated land-use changes, which reduce the number of different land-use types, will affect the genetic diversity of P. alpina negatively.