Many arctic-alpine organisms have vast present-day ranges across Eurasia, but their history of refugial isolation, differentiation and postglacial expansion is poorly understood. The mountain avens, Dryas octopetala sensu lato, is a long-lived, wind-dispersed, diploid shrub forming one of the most important components of Eurasian tundras and heaths in terms of biomass. We address differentiation and migration history of the species with emphasis on the western and northern Eurasian parts of its distribution area, also including some East Greenlandic and North American populations (partly referred to as the closely related D. integrifolia M. Vahl). We analysed 459 plants from 52 populations for 155 amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLP) markers. The Eurasian plants were separated into two main groups, probably reflecting isolation and expansion from two major glacial refugia, situated south and east of the North European ice sheets, respectively. Virtually all of northwestern Europe as well as East Greenland have been colonized by the Southern lineage, whereas northwest Russia, the Tatra Mountains and the arctic archipelago of Svalbard have been colonized by the Eastern lineage. The data indicate a contact zone between the two lineages in northern Scandinavia and possibly in the Tatra Mountains. The two single populations analysed from the Caucasus and Altai Mountains were most closely related to the Eastern lineage but were strongly divergent from the remaining eastern populations, suggesting survival in separate refugia at least during the last glaciation. The North American populations grouped with those from East Greenland, irrespective of their taxonomic affiliation, but this may be caused by independent hybridization with D. integrifolia and therefore not reflect the true relationship between populations from these areas.
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