• Clarence River Corridor;
  • environmental niche modelling;
  • haplotypic diversity;
  • isolation by distance;
  • Last Glacial Maximum;
  • Macleay Overlap Zone;
  • palaeodistribution;
  • Podocarpus elatus ;
  • rain forest conifer;
  • range shifts


Aim  We examine the range expansion/contraction dynamics during the last glacial cycle of the late-successional tropical rain forest conifer Podocarpus elatus using a combination of modelling and molecular marker analyses. Specifically, we test whether distributional changes predicted by environmental niche modelling are in agreement with (1) the glacial maximum contractions inferred from the southern fossil record, and (2) population genetic-based estimates of range disjunctions and demographic dynamics. In addition, we test whether northern and southern ranges are likely to have experienced similar expansion/contraction dynamics.

Location  Eastern Australian tropical and subtropical rain forests.

Methods  Environmental niche modelling was completed for three time periods during the last glacial cycle and was interpreted in light of the known palynology. We collected 109 samples from 32 populations across the entire range of P. elatus. Six microsatellite loci and Bayesian coalescence analysis were used to infer population expansion/contraction dynamics, and five sequenced loci (one plastid and four nuclear) were used to quantify genetic structure/diversity.

Results  Environmental niche modelling suggested that the northern and southern ranges of P. elatus experienced different expansion/contraction dynamics. In the northern range, the habitat suitable for P. elatus persisted in a small refugial area during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, 21 ka) and then expanded during the post-glacial period. Conversely, in the south suitable habitat was widespread during the LGM but subsequently contracted. These differential dynamics were supported by Bayesian analyses of the population genetic data (northern dispersal) and are consistent with the greater genetic diversity in the south compared with the north. A contact zone between the two genetically divergent groups (corresponding to the Macleay Overlap Zone) was supported by environmental niche modelling and molecular analyses.

Main conclusions  The climatic fluctuations of the Quaternary have differentially impacted the northern and southern ranges of a broadly distributed rain forest tree in Australia. Recurrent contraction/expansion cycles contributed to the genetic distinction between northern and southern distributions of P. elatus. By combining molecular and environmental niche modelling evidence, this unique study undermines the general assumption that broadly distributed species respond in a uniform way to climate change.