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Climate changes and tree phylogeography in the Mediterranean

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The Mediterranean Basin is expected to be more strongly affected by ongoing global climate change than most other regions of the earth. Given the magnitude of forecasted trends, there are great concerns for the particularly rich biodiversity found in the region. Studies of the consequences of past climate shifts on biodiversity represent one of the best sources of data to validate models of the ecological and evolutionary consequences of future changes. Here we review recent findings from palaeoecology, phylogeography and climate change research to (1) explore possible antecedents of the predicted climate warming in the younger geological history of the Mediterranean Basin, (2) assess how tree populations have reacted to them, and (3) evaluate the significance of the evolutionary heritage that is at stake. A major question of our retrospective approach is whether Quaternary tree extinctions took place primarily during glacial or during interglacial episodes. Available data are scanty and somewhat conflicting. In contrast, abundant phylogeographic evidence clearly indicates that the bulk of genetic diversity in European temperate tree species is almost invariably located in the southernmost part of their range. Long-term persistence of isolated populations have been common phenomena in the Mediterranean, to the point that the current genetic structure in this area probably often reflects population divergence that pre-dates the onset of the Mediterranean climate in the Pliocene. In particular, Tertiary migrations into the Mediterranean of tree taxa originating from Asia seem to have left their footprints in the current genetic structure in these slowly evolving organisms. Moreover, phylogeographic studies point to heterogeneous rates of molecular evolution across lineages that are inversely related with their stability. We conclude that relict tree populations in the Mediterranean Basin represent an evolutionary heritage of disproportionate significance for the conservation of European plant biodiversity.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: INRA, UMR Biodiversity, Genes & Ecosystems, 69 Route d'Arcachon, F-33612 Cestas cedex, France 2: Integrative Ecology Group, Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), Apdo. 1056, E-41080 Sevilla, Spain 3: Université Montpellier II, Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution, case postale 61, F-34095 Montpellier, France

Publication date: 2005-11-01

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