This article is part of the supplement: Second Congress of Italian Evolutionary Biologists (First Congress of the Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology)

Open Access Research

Unexpected presence of Fagus orientalis complex in Italy as inferred from 45,000-year-old DNA pollen samples from Venice lagoon

Donatella Paffetti1, Cristina Vettori2, David Caramelli3, Cristiano Vernesi4, Martina Lari3, Arturo Paganelli5, Ladislav Paule6 and Raffaello Giannini12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental and Forestry Technologies and Sciences, University of Florence, Via San Bonaventura 13, 50145 Florence, Italy

2 Plant Genetics Institute, National Research Council, Via Madonna del Piano 10, 50019, Sesto Fiorentino (FI), Italy

3 Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e Genetica, Laboratorio di Antropologia, University of Florence, Via del Proconsolo 12, 50122 Firenze, Italy

4 Centro Ecologia Alpina, Viote del Monte Bondone, 38040 Trento, Italy

5 Department of Biology, University of Padova, Via U. Bassi 58/B, I-35121, Padova, Italy

6 Faculty of Forestry, Technical University, SK-96053 Zvolen, Slovakia

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7(Suppl 2):S6  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-S2-S6

Published: 16 August 2007



Phylogeographic analyses on the Western Euroasiatic Fagus taxa (F. orientalis, F. sylvatica, F. taurica and F. moesiaca) is available, however, the subdivision of Fagus spp. is unresolved and there is no consensus on the phylogeny and on the identification (both with morphological than molecular markers) of Fagus Eurasiatic taxa.

For the first time molecular analyses of ancient pollen, dated at least 45,000 years ago, were used in combination with the phylogeny analysis on current species, to identify the Fagus spp. present during the Last Interglacial period in Italy.

In this work we aim at testing if the trnL-trnF chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) region, that has been previously proved efficient in discriminating different Quercus taxa, can be employed in distinguishing the Fagus species and in identifying the ancient pollen.


86 populations from 4 Western Euroasistic taxa were sampled, and sequenced for the trnL-trnF region to verify the efficiency of this cpDNA region in identifying the Fagus spp.. Furthermore, Fagus crenata (2 populations), Fagus grandifolia (2 populations), Fagus japonica, Fagus hayatae, Quercus species and Castanea species were analysed to better resolve the phylogenetic inference.

Our results show that this cpDNA region harbour some informative sites that allow to infer relationships among the species within the Fagaceae family. In particular, few specific and fixed mutations were able to discriminate and identify all the different Fagus species.

Considering a short fragment of 176 base pairs within the trnL intron, 2 transversions were found able in distinguishing the F. orientalis complex taxa (F. orientalis, F. taurica and F. moesiaca) from the remaining Fagus spp. (F. sylvatica, F. japonica, F. hayataea, F. crenata and F. grandifolia). This permits to analyse this fragment also in ancient samples, where DNA is usually highly degraded.

The sequences data indicate that the DNA recovered from ancient pollen belongs to the F. orientalis complex since it displays the informative sites characteristic of this complex.


The ancient DNA sequences demonstrate for the first time that, in contrast to current knowledge based on palynological and macrofossil data, the F. orientalis complex was already present during the Tyrrhenian period in what is now the Venice lagoon (Italy).

This is a new and important insight considering that nowadays West Europe is not the natural area of Fagus orientalis complex, and up to now nobody has hypothesized the presence during the Last Interglacial period of F. orientalis complex in Italy.