In Germany, Eryngium campestre is restricted to dry habitats along the rivers Rhine and Elbe and to a few areas in Central Germany. This distribution pattern is usually regarded as a typical pattern of postglacial immigration. In the present study, we investigated whether these two geographically distinct distribution areas are genetically differentiated and whether conclusions can be drawn regarding colonization history. To analyse the phylogeographic structure of E. campestre in Central Europe, 278 individuals from 29 populations within Germany and from further reference populations within Europe were analysed. We applied amplified fragment length polymorphisms to examine their genetic relatedness. Our analyses revealed three groups: a Mediterranean group additionally including two Rhine populations; a Rhine–Main group which further includes the westernmost population from the central German dry area; and one group which includes all eastern populations. Our results show that the two geographically distinct areas are genetically differentiated. As genetic diversity within the Elbe populations is very low, we conclude that this area, which was strongly affected through the late glacial maximum, was colonized relatively recently. High genetic diversity in the Rhine populations indicates a contact zone where lineages of different origin met. This would imply that today's patterns of genetic variation were caused through glacial range contractions and expansions. The present study is one of the first studies that deal with the postglacial distribution pattern of a dry grassland plant species in Central Europe and the results suggest that a survival of E. campestre at least during the Dryas cold stage might be possible.
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