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Keywords:

  • bacterial systematics;
  • biogeography;
  • ecotypes;
  • migration;
  • recombination;
  • species concept

Abstract

We used phylogenetic and population genetics approaches to evaluate the importance of the evolutionary forces on shaping the genetic structure of Rhizobium gallicum and related species. We analysed 54 strains from several populations distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, using nucleotide sequences of three ‘core’ chromosomal genes (rrs, glnII and atpD) and two ‘auxiliary’ symbiotic genes (nifH and nodB) to elucidate the biogeographic history of the species and symbiotic ecotypes (biovarieties) within species. The analyses revealed that strains classified as Rhizobium mongolense and Rhizobium yanglingense belong to the chromosomal evolutionary lineage of R. gallicum and harbour symbiotic genes corresponding to a new biovar; we propose their reclassification as R. gallicum bv. orientale. The comparison of the chromosomal and symbiotic genes revealed evidence of lateral transfer of symbiotic information within and across species. Genetic differentiation analyses based on the chromosomal protein-coding genes revealed a biogeographic pattern with three main populations, whereas the 16S rDNA sequences did not resolve that biogeographic pattern. Both the phylogenetic and population genetic analyses showed evidence of recombination at the rrs locus. We discuss our results in the light of the contrasting views of bacterial species expressed by microbial taxonomist and evolutionary biologists.