Aim The aim of this study is to analyse the genetic population structure of Meum athamanticum Jacq. in order to explore the alternative hypotheses (1) that the central and northern highland populations are the result of post-glacial recolonization from southern refugia, and the disjunct distribution of M. athamanticum can be explained by modern ecological conditions, or (2) that extant populations north of the Alps and Pyrenees persisted in situ during glacial periods.
Methods Variation of amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) was analysed for 23 populations from the entire range of the species. We used band-based approaches and methods based on allele frequencies to measure genetic diversity and to identify population structure.
Results Our analyses reveal a north–south differentiation within M. athamanticum. High levels of genetic diversity, as well as private fragments, are found in populations both north and south of the Alps. Differentiation among populations is lower in the northern than in the southern population group, and significant isolation-by-distance is found only in the latter group.
Main conclusions Our results indicate that M. athamanticum survived the last ice age in multiple refugia throughout its contemporary range and did not expand into areas north of the Alps from southern refugia. We found evidence that regional-scale migration in northern, formerly periglacial, parts of the species range has resulted in the intermingling of populations. In contrast, southern populations are characterized by long-term isolation. The south-west Alps represent an area where immigration and mixing of populations from northern and southern refugia appears to have taken place.