Pasture Names with Romance and Slavic Roots Facilitate Dissection of Y Chromosome Variation in an Exclusively German-Speaking Alpine Region
The small alpine district of East Tyrol (Austria) has an exceptional demographic history. It was contemporaneously inhabited by members of the Romance, the Slavic and the Germanic language groups for centuries. Since the Late Middle Ages, however, the population of the principally agrarian-oriented area is solely Germanic speaking. Historic facts about East Tyrol's colonization are rare, but spatial density-distribution analysis based on the etymology of place-names has facilitated accurate spatial mapping of the various language groups' former settlement regions. To test for present-day Y chromosome population substructure, molecular genetic data were compared to the information attained by the linguistic analysis of pasture names. The linguistic data were used for subdividing East Tyrol into two regions of former Romance (A) and Slavic (B) settlement. Samples from 270 East Tyrolean men were genotyped for 17 Y-chromosomal microsatellites (Y-STRs) and 27 single nucleotide polymorphisms (Y-SNPs). Analysis of the probands' surnames revealed no evidence for spatial genetic structuring. Also, spatial autocorrelation analysis did not indicate significant correlation between genetic (Y-STR haplotypes) and geographic distance. Haplogroup R-M17 chromosomes, however, were absent in region A, but constituted one of the most frequent haplogroups in region B. The R-M343 (R1b) clade showed a marked and complementary frequency distribution pattern in these two regions. To further test East Tyrol's modern Y-chromosomal landscape for geographic patterning attributable to the early history of settlement in this alpine area, principal coordinates analysis was performed. The Y-STR haplotypes from region A clearly clustered with those of Romance reference populations and the samples from region B matched best with Germanic speaking reference populations. The combined use of onomastic and molecular genetic data revealed and mapped the marked structuring of the distribution of Y chromosomes in an alpine region that has been culturally homogeneous for centuries.