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Identification of glacial refugia in south-eastern North America by phylogeographical analyses of a forest understorey plant, Trillium cuneatum

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Abstract Aim 

We examine several hypotheses emerging from biogeographical and fossil records regarding glacial refugia of a southern thermophilic plant species. Specifically, we investigated the glacial history and post-glacial colonization of a forest understorey species, Trillium cuneatum. We focused on the following questions: (1) Did T. cuneatum survive the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) in multiple refugia, and (if so) where were they located, and is the modern genetic structure congruent with the fossil record-based reconstruction of refugia for mesic deciduous forests? (2) What are the post-glacial colonization patterns in the present geographical range? Location 

South-eastern North America. Methods 

We sampled 45 populations of T. cuneatum throughout its current range. We conducted phylogeographical analyses based on maternally inherited chloroplast DNA (cpDNA haplotypes) and used TCS software to reconstruct intraspecific phylogeny. Results 

We detected six cpDNA haplotypes, geographically highly structured into non-overlapping areas. With one exception, none of the populations had mixed haplotype composition. TCS analysis resulted in two intraspecific cpDNA lineages, with one clade subdivided further by shallower diversification. Main conclusions 

Our investigation revealed that T. cuneatum survived the LGM in multiple refugia, belonging to two (western, eastern) genealogical lineages geographically structured across south-eastern North America. The western clade is confined to the south-western corner of T. cuneatum’s modern range along the Lower Mississippi Valley, where fossil records document a major refugium of mesic deciduous forest. For the eastern clade, modern patterns of cpDNA haplotype distribution suggest cryptic vicariance, in the form of forest contractions and subsequent expansions associated with Pleistocene glacial cycles, rather than simple southern survival and subsequent northward colonization. The north–south partitioning of cpDNA haplotypes was unexpected, suggesting that populations of this rather southern thermophilic species may have survived in more northern locations than initially expected based on LGM climate reconstruction, and that the Appalachian Mountains functioned as a barrier to the dispersal of propagules originating in more southern refugia. Furthermore, our results reveal south-west to north-east directionality in historical migration through the Valley and Ridge region of north-west Georgia.

Keywords: Chloroplast DNA; Trillium; biogeography; conservation; genetic structure; glacial refugia; phylogeography; post-glacial colonization

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Plant Biology Department, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA

Publication date: 2008-05-01

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