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Break zones in the distributions of alleles and species in alpine plants

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Abstract Aim 

We test for the congruence between allele-based range boundaries (break zones) in silicicolous alpine plants and species-based break zones in the silicicolous flora of the European Alps. We also ask whether such break zones coincide with areas of large elevational variation. Location 

The European Alps. Methods 

On a regular grid laid across the entire Alps, we determined areas of allele- and species-based break zones using respective clustering algorithms, identifying discontinuities in cluster distributions (breaks), and quantifying integrated break densities (break zones). Discontinuities were identified based on the intra-specific genetic variation of 12 species and on the floristic distribution data from 239 species, respectively. Coincidence between the two types of break zones was tested using Spearman’s correlation. Break zone densities were also regressed on topographical complexity to test for the effect of elevational variation. Results 

We found that two main break zones in the distribution of alleles and species were significantly correlated. Furthermore, we show that these break zones are in topographically complex regions, characterized by massive elevational ranges owing to high mountains and deep glacial valleys. We detected a third break zone in the distribution of species in the eastern Alps, which is not correlated with topographic complexity, and which is also not evident from allelic distribution patterns. Species with the potential for long-distance dispersal tended to show larger distribution ranges than short-distance dispersers. Main conclusions 

We suggest that the history of Pleistocene glaciations is the main driver of the congruence between allele-based and species-based distribution patterns, because occurrences of both species and alleles were subject to the same processes (such as extinction, migration and drift) that shaped the distributions of species and genetic lineages. Large elevational ranges have had a profound effect as a dispersal barrier for alleles during post-glacial immigration. Because plant species, unlike alleles, cannot spread via pollen but only via seed, and thus disperse less effectively, we conclude that species break zones are maintained over longer time spans and reflect more ancient patterns than allele break zones.
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Keywords: AFLP; European Alps; allele distribution patterns; alpine plants; elevational range; floristic areas; genetic structure; glacial survival; species distribution patterns

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: WSL Swiss Federal Research Institute, Birmensdorf, Switzerland 2: Department of Biogeography, Faculty Centre of Biodiversity, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria 3: Istituto di Zootecnica, Università Cattolica del S. Cuore, Piacenza, Italy 4: Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine (LECA), CNRS UMR 5553, Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble Cedex 9, France 5: Univerza v Ljubljani, Oddelek za Biologijo BF, Ljubljana, Slovenia 6: Institute of Systematic Botany, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Publication date: 2011-04-01

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