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How do temperate bryophytes face the challenge of a changing environment? Lessons from the past and predictions for the future

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Abstract

Bryophytes are a group of early land plants, whose specific ecophysiological and biological features, including poikilohydry, sensitivity to moderately high temperature and high dispersal ability, make them ideal candidates for investigating the impact of climate changes. Employing a combined approach of species distribution modelling (SDM) and molecular phylogeography in the temperate moss Homalothecium sericeum, we explore the significance of the Mediterranean refugia, contrasting the southern and northern refugia hypotheses, determine the extent to which recolonization of previously glaciated areas has been facilitated by the high dispersal ability of the species and make predictions on the extent to which it will be impacted by ongoing climate change. The Mediterranean areas exhibit the highest nucleotidic diversities and host a mixture of ancestral, endemic and more recently derived haplotypes. Extra-Mediterranean areas exhibit low genetic diversities and Euro-Siberian populations display a significant signal of expansion that is identified to be of Euro-Siberian origin, pointing to the northern refugia hypothesis. The SDMs predict a global net increase in range size owing to ongoing climate change, but substantial range reductions in southern areas. Presence of a significant phylogeographical signal at different spatial scales suggests, however, that dispersal limitations might constitute, as opposed to the traditional view of spore-producing plants as efficient dispersers, a constraint for migration. This casts doubts about the ability of the species to face the massive extinctions predicted in the southern areas, threatening their status of reservoir of genetic diversity.

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