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Inferring the past from the present phylogeographic structure of North American forest trees: seeing the forest for the genes

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The study of past historical events that have led to ecological changes is a recurrent topic in many disciplines. Given that many of these events have left a large and long-lasting evolutionary imprint on the extant population genetic structure of species, phylogeographic studies on modern taxa have been largely used to infer the impacts of these events and to complement previous paleoecological and paleobotanical surveys. In spite of the geographical and geological complexity of North America, converging patterns can be observed when comparing the available genetic data for forest trees. Such patterns include the co-location of genetic discontinuities among species and their coincidence with mountain ranges (e.g., the Appalachians, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada, or the Transverse Volcanic Belt) and with previously inferred glacial refugia. Using examples drawn from the available literature, we illustrate such shared features and present the contrasting phylogeographic patterns observed among the different regions of the continent. The various evolutionary consequences of historical events that can be deduced from these phylogeographic studies (e.g., past bottlenecks, founder effects, allopatric divergence, or introgressive hybridization) are additionally discussed. The present challenges and future research prospects that are likely to further advance this field are finally outlined.

L’étude d’événements passés responsables de bouleversements écologiques est un sujet récurrent dans plusieurs disciplines. Puisque plusieurs de ces événements ont laissé une trace évolutive importante et durable dans la structure génétique des populations d’espèces, la phylogéographie des taxons contemporains a fréquemment été étudiée afin de déduire les impacts de ces événements et d'enrichir les études antérieures en paléoécologie et paléobotanique. Malgré la complexité géographique et géologique de l’Amérique du Nord, les auteurs ont noté des patrons convergents en comparant les données génétiques disponibles chez les arbres forestiers. Ces patrons incluent la présence de discontinuités génétiques communes aux espèces et leur coïncidence avec les chaînes de montagnes (p. ex., les Appalaches, les Rocheuses, la Sierra Nevada ou la Cordillère néovolcanique au Mexique) ainsi qu’avec les refuges glaciaires déduits antérieurement. À l’aide d’exemples tirés de la littérature, les auteurs illustrent de telles caractéristiques partagées et présentent les patrons phylogéographiques contrastés observés dans les différentes régions du continent. Les diverses conséquences évolutives des événements historiques qui peuvent être déduites des études phylogéographiques sont également discutées (p. ex., les goulots d'etranglement anciens, les effets fondateurs, la divergence allopatrique et l’hybridation introgressive). Enfin, les auteurs abordent les défis actuels et les avenues futures de recherche qui pourraient faire progresser le domaine.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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  • Published since 1971, this monthly journal features articles, reviews, notes and commentaries on all aspects of forest science, including biometrics and mensuration, conservation, disturbance, ecology, economics, entomology, fire, genetics, management, operations, pathology, physiology, policy, remote sensing, social science, soil, silviculture, wildlife and wood science, contributed by internationally respected scientists. It also publishes special issues dedicated to a topic of current interest.
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