Resistance or emigration: response of the high-alpine plant Eritrichium nanum (L.) Gaudin to the ice age within the Central Alps


Ivana Stehlik. Fax: +41 1 634 84 03;


Two main possibilities regarding glacial survival of the mountain flora of the Alps during the Quaternary have been discussed: the tabula rasa and the nunatak hypotheses. Eritrichium nanum (L.) Gaudin (Boraginaceae) is a perennial cushion plant, occurring at high elevations of the Central Alps and having a preference for extreme habitats. It belongs to a group of high-alpine plants, for which in situ glacial survival on nunataks is ecologically possible. By investigating 20 populations of E. nanum of potential nunatak and peripheral refugial regions using amplified fragment length polymorphism, considerable genetic differences between populations from the Central Alps and populations from peripheral refugia were detected; hence, the latter probably did not serve as potential sources for the re-colonization of the Central Alps after glaciation. Genetic variation was hierarchically structured ( amova), and three genetically distinct regions could be identified in the Central Alps. Two of these, the Penninic and Rhaetic Alps, correspond to nunatak regions proposed in the biogeographic literature. Populations from the Lepontic Alps formed a third genetic group. Genetic correlation (Mantel statistics) was highest within populations, with a modest decline among populations within specific nunatak regions and a negative correlation outside the genetic influence of specific nunatak regions. In situ glacial survival in E. nanum could be a model for the Quaternary history of other alpine plants, especially those that also occur at high elevations and in similar habitats.