To what extent do wild apples in Kazakhstan retain their genetic integrity?
Kazakhstan belongs to the center of origin of apple. Malus sieversii (Ledeb.) M. Roem., the ancestral progenitor of the cultivated apple is native to this region. Pressure on the natural habitats of this wild apple has been intensified due to agriculture, grazing, and urbanization in the last century. For decades, M. sieversii in Kazakhstan has been subjected to the BRed Book of the Kazakh SSR^ and today, this species is threatened with extinction. Wild apple undergoes exceptional losses in habitats, and the risk for losing the genetic integrity becomes worse due to increasing cultivation of cultivated apples and frequently occurring crosspollination events. The present study was focused on the current state of M. sieversii in Kazakhstan, the level of its diversity, its genetic integrity, and the identification of regions where future activities for conservation will have a good chance of success. A total of 311 M. sieversii samples of 12 populations collected in the wild, 16 previously selected wild apple ge otypes, and 50 grown cultivars were studied using 16 simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers for genetic analysis. The results suggest that the level of genetic diversity is high. The differentiation between the populations was low, although the within-population heterozygosity was relatively high. A significant number of hybrids (8–95%) between M. sieversii and cultivated apples were found suggesting frequent crop-to-wild gene flow. The percentage of pure wild apple genotypes was highest in Krutoe truct and Tauturgen. These sites should be taken into account for future in situ long-term preservation activities.