Aim Our goals were: (1) to investigate patterns of genetic variation in the French Massif Central (MC) of Soldanella alpina (Primulaceae), an alpine plant species that has only one known population in the region; (2) to analyse these patterns in order to deduce the Quaternary history of the population and to predict how current climatic warming may affect it; and (3) to review molecular analyses from the MC to evaluate the importance of the region for the conservation of genetic diversity.
Location Europe, with a special focus on the French Massif Central and adjacent regions.
Methods Amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) were analysed for 192 individuals (nine populations) of S. alpina (subsp. alpina) representing the MC, Pyrenees and south-western Alps. Population genetic diversity was assessed by various parameters (e.g. HE, Shannon’s I). Neighbor-Net and Bayesian approaches, and analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) were used to infer population genetic relationships and structure.
Results Individuals generally clustered according to populations within mountain regions. Hierarchical AMOVA indicated significant variation among mountain ranges (33.2% of the total variance), but there was also strong differentiation between populations (26.3%). The single population of S. alpina from the MC was identified as a distinct lineage of high genetic diversity. Our literature survey indicated that taxa with low and with high genetic diversity exist in the MC, and that genetic relationships to surrounding regions are diverse.
Main conclusions The high genetic diversity and distinctiveness of S. alpina in the MC suggests the long-term persistence of the single population in this region, which might have been favoured through elevational range shifts in response to past climatic change. This interpretation partly accords with other studies indicating that several plant and animal populations in the MC contain comparatively high genetic diversity, represent genetically independent lineages, and/or are likely descendants of populations that persisted in the MC throughout the Quaternary. These data underline the conservation importance of the MC as a key area for the long-term persistence of species with often high levels of intraspecific genetic diversity.