Phylogeographic studies in plants: problems and prospects


B. A. Schaal Fax: +1-(314)-935-4432; E-mail:


Genetic structuring of plant populations is strongly influenced by both common ancestry and current patterns of interpopulation genetic exchange. The interaction of these two forces is particularly confounding and hence interesting in plants. This complexity of plant genetic structures is due in part to a diversity of reproductive ecologies affecting genetic exchange and the fact that reproductive barriers are often weak between otherwise morphologically well-defined species. Phylogeographic methods provide a means of examining the history of genetic exchange among populations, with the potential to distinguish biogeographic patterns of genetic variation caused by gene flow from those caused by common ancestry. With regard to plants, phylogeography will be most useful when applied broadly across the entire spectrum of potential genetic exchange. Although current phylogeographic studies of plants show promise, widespread application of this approach has been hindered by a lack of appropriate molecular variation; this problem is discussed and possible solutions considered.