Variation in the chloroplast genome of Ilex aquifolium (English holly), a dioecious evergreen tree native to south, west and central Europe, was analysed using polymerase chain reaction–restriction fragment length polymorphisms (PCR-RFLPs) and microsatellites. Differentiation between populations was high (GST = 0.595) and evidence for phylogeographical structure was detected (NST = 0.697, significantly higher than GST). Two chloroplast lineages were inferred originating from putative glacial refugia in southern Europe (Iberia, Italy and possibly the Balkans). The GST value was higher than reported for endozoochorous hermaphrodite species and for anemochorous dioecious species investigated over a similar geographical scale. It appears that dioecy has contributed to strong differentiation between refugia and that this has been maintained following postglacial recolonization as a result of limited seed flow. Palynological records for I. aquifolium are poor, thus these results give an important insight into patterns of glacial isolation and postglacial recolonization of this species.
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