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Genetic structure of Hypochaeris uniflora (Asteraceae) suggests vicariance in the Carpathians and rapid post-glacial colonization of the Alps from an eastern Alpine refugium


*Patrik Mráz, Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine, Université Joseph Fourier, UMR UJF-CNRS 5553, PO Box 53, F-38041 Grenoble Cedex 9, France.


Aim  The range of the subalpine species Hypochaeris uniflora covers the Alps, Carpathians and Sudetes Mountains. Whilst the genetic structure and post-glacial history of many high-mountain plant taxa of the Alps is relatively well documented, the Carpathian populations have often been neglected in phylogeographical studies. The aim of the present study is to compare the genetic variation of the species in two major European mountain systems – the Alps and the Carpathians.

Location  Alps and Carpathians.

Methods  The genetic variation of 77 populations, each consisting of three plants, was studied using amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP).

Results  Neighbour joining and principal coordinate analyses revealed three well-supported phylogeographical groups of populations corresponding to three disjunct geographical regions – the Alps and the western and south-eastern Carpathians. Moreover, two further clusters could be distinguished within the latter mountain range, one consisting of populations from the eastern Carpathians and the second consisting of populations from the southern Carpathians. Populations from the Apuseni Mountains had an intermediate position between the eastern and southern Carpathians. The genetic clustering of populations into four groups was also supported by an analysis of molecular variance, which showed that most genetic variation (almost 46%) was found among these four groups. By far the highest within-population variation was found in the eastern Carpathians, followed by populations from the southern and western Carpathians. Generally, the populations from the Alps were considerably less variable and displayed substantially fewer region-diagnostic markers than those from the south-eastern Carpathians. Although no clear geographical structure was found within the Alps, based on neighbour joining or principal coordinate analyses, some trends were obvious: populations from the easternmost part were genetically more variable and, together with those from the south-western part, exhibited a higher proportion of rare AFLP fragments than populations in other areas. Moreover, the total number of AFLP fragments per population, the percentage of polymorphic loci and the proportion of rare AFLP fragments significantly decreased from east to west.

Main conclusions  Deep infraspecific phylogeographical gaps between the populations from the Alps and the western and south-eastern Carpathians suggest the survival of H. uniflora in three separate refugia during the last glaciation. Our AFLP data provide molecular evidence for a long-term geographical disjunction between the eastern and western Carpathians, previously suggested from the floristic composition at the end of 19th century. It is likely that Alpine populations survived the Last Glacial in the eastern part of the Alps, from where they rapidly colonized the rest of the Alps after the ice sheet retreated. Multiple founder effects may explain a gradual loss of genetic variation during westward colonization of the Alps.