The alpine sedge Carex curvula ssp. curvula is a clonal, dominant graminoid found in the European Alps, the Carpathians, the Pyrenees and in some of the Balkan Mountains. It is a late-successional species of acidophilous alpine meadows that occurs on sites that were covered by ice during the last glacial maximum (LGM). By applying the amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) fingerprinting and chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) sequencing, we attempted to identify the recolonization routes followed by the species after the last ice retreat. We relied on the genetic diversity of 37 populations covering the entire distributional range of the species. As a wind-pollinated species, C. curvula is characterized by a low level of population genetic differentiation. Nuclear and chloroplast data both support the hypothesis of a long-term separation of Eastern (Balkans and Carpathians) and Western (Alps and Pyrenees) lineages. In the Alps, a continuum of genetic depauperation from the east to the west may be related to a recolonization wave originating in the eastern-most parts of the chain, where the main glacial refugium was likely located. The Pyrenean populations are nested within the western Alps group and show a low level of genetic diversity, probably due to recent long-distance colonization. In contrast to the Alps, we found no phylogeographical structure in the Carpathians. The combination of reduced ice extension during the Würm period and the presence of large areas of siliceous substrate at suitable elevation suggest that in contrast to populations in the Alps, the species in the Carpathians underwent a local vertical migration rather than extinction and recolonization over long distance.
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