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.
Methodology: 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.
Principal results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.