Ploidy level is an important aspect of the genetic makeup of a plant, and can strongly influence ecological characteristics such as invasiveness. We used a phylogeographical approach to elucidate the history of polyploidization and colonization success of diploid and tetraploid Solidago gigantea Aiton (Asteraceae) within its native range in North America. We were also able to identify the probable source material of the haplotype lineages invasive in Europe and Asia, where only tetraploid plants occur. To do this, we sequenced 1275 bp of chloroplast intergenic spacer DNA in 268 individuals from 57 populations. In addition, we performed a crossing experiment, which supported the hypothesis that chloroplast inheritance in this species is maternal. The phylogeographical analysis showed a complex pattern of 20 haplotypes of diploid and tetraploid plants. In North America, we found significant differentiation among regions, private haplotypes, and isolation by distance. Ploidy levels were more differentiated in the northern regions than in the South. The haplotype network was shallow and included one tetraploid-only, star-shaped cluster of haplotypes that were particularly successful colonizers. Post-glacial migration of diploid S. gigantea occurred mainly northwards east of the Appalachian Mountains, and to a lesser degree also southward. Our data suggest that tetraploids have formed several times in North America. Haplotype number and diversity were lower in European populations than in the native range, and we found evidence that four haplotypes were introduced to Europe from two source areas, New England and the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
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