Lobelia giberroa is a giant rosette plant growing in the afro-montane belt of the afro-alpine environment, a unique and little-studied ecosystem occupying the high mountains of eastern Africa. We analysed amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs) from 11 mountain systems in Ethiopia and Tropical East Africa to infer the phylogeographical history of the species. A total of 191 individuals were investigated from 25 populations. Principal coordinate analysis and population structure analyses revealed three major phylogeographical groups: the Ethiopian mountains and one group on each side of the Rift Valley in Tropical East Africa, respectively: Elgon–Cherangani and Kenya–Aberdare–Kilimanjaro–Meru. Analysis of Molecular Variance showed 55.7% variance among the three groups, suggesting an old divergence. Together with a clear geographical substructure within the main groups, this pattern indicates gradual expansion and supports the montane forest bridge hypothesis, stating that the area occupied by forest was larger and more continuous in previous interglacials and earlier in the present interglacial. Genetic diversity was lower in Ethiopia than in the other two main groups, possibly due to an ancient founder effect when Ethiopia was colonized from the south.
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