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Windmaißer, Tobias; Kattari, Stefan; Heubl, Guenther; Reisch, Christoph (2016): Glacial refugia and postglacial expansion of the alpine-prealpine plant species Polygala chamaebuxus. In: Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 6, No. 21: pp. 7809-7819


The shrubby milkwort (Polygala chamaebuxus L.) is widely distributed in the Alps, but occurs also in the lower mountain ranges of Central Europe such as the Franconian Jura or the Bohemian uplands. Populations in these regions may either originate from glacial survival or from postglacial recolonization. In this study, we analyzed 30 populations of P.chamaebuxus from the whole distribution range using AFLP (Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism) analysis to identify glacial refugia and to illuminate the origin of P.chamaebuxus in the lower mountain ranges of Central Europe. Genetic variation and the number of rare fragments within populations were highest in populations from the central part of the distribution range, especially in the Southern Alps (from the Tessin Alps and the Prealps of Lugano to the Triglav Massiv) and in the middle part of the northern Alps. These regions may have served, in accordance with previous studies, as long-term refugia for the glacial survival of the species. The geographic pattern of genetic variation, as revealed by analysis of molecular variance, Bayesian cluster analysis and a PopGraph genetic network was, however, only weak. Instead of postglacial recolonization from only few long-term refugia, which would have resulted in deeper genetic splits within the data set, broad waves of postglacial expansion from several short-term isolated populations in the center to the actual periphery of the distribution range seem to be the scenario explaining the observed pattern of genetic variation most likely. The populations from the lower mountain ranges in Central Europe were more closely related to the populations from the southwestern and northern than from the nearby eastern Alps. Although glacial survival in the Bohemian uplands cannot fully be excluded, P.chamaebuxus seems to have immigrated postglacially from the southwestern or central-northern parts of the Alps into these regions during the expansion of the pine forests in the early Holocene.