The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) is thought to be more strongly affected by the Quaternary glaciations than most other regions of the same latitude. It would be of great interest to investigate the population genetic structure of organisms distributed on the platform and its correlation with the Quaternary climatic oscillations. Here we used the chloroplast (cp)DNA trnT-trnF sequence to study genetic variation and phylogeography of Pedicularis longiflora, an alpine herb with extensive distribution on the QTP. Based on a range-wide sampling comprising 41 populations and 910 individuals, we detected 30 cpDNA haplotypes that were divided into five clades by phylogenetic and network analyses and a strong phylogeographical structure. All haplotypes but one in the three basal clades occur exclusively in the southeast QTP, whereas haplotypes in the young clade V occupy almost the whole species range. In particular, the young haplotype H18 occurs in 420 individuals, even at a frequency of 100% in some QTP platform populations and the Altai population. The haplotype distribution pattern, together with molecular clock estimation and mismatch distribution analysis, suggests that the southeast QTP was either a refuge for P. longiflora during the Quaternary climatic change or is the place of origin of the species. The present wide distribution of the species on the QTP platform has resulted from recent population expansions which could be dated back to 120 000–17 000 years ago, a period mostly before the last glacial maximum. The possible relationships among geographic genetic structure, climatic change and species diversification in Pedicularis are also discussed.
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