History and evolution of alpine plants endemic to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau: Aconitum gymnandrum (Ranunculaceae)

Authors

  • LIUYANG WANG,

    1. Institute of Molecular Ecology, MOE Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, School of Life Science, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, Gansu, China;
    2. Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining 810001, Qinghai, China;
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  • RICHARD J. ABBOTT,

    1. School of Biology, Mitchell Building, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9TH, UK
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  • WEI ZHENG,

    1. Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining 810001, Qinghai, China;
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  • PING CHEN,

    1. Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining 810001, Qinghai, China;
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  • YUJIN WANG,

    1. Institute of Molecular Ecology, MOE Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, School of Life Science, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, Gansu, China;
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  • JIANQUAN LIU

    1. Institute of Molecular Ecology, MOE Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology, School of Life Science, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, Gansu, China;
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Jian-Quan Liu, Fax: +86-931-8914288; E-mail: liujq@nwipb.ac.cn, ljqdxy@public.xn.qh.cn

Abstract

How Quaternary climatic oscillations affected range distributions and intraspecific divergence of alpine plants on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) remains largely unknown. Here, we report a survey of chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) and nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) DNA variation aimed at exploring the phylogeographical history of the QTP alpine endemic Aconitum gymnandrum. We sequenced three cpDNA fragments (rpl20–rps12 intergenic spacer, the trnV intron and psbA-trnH spacer) and also the nuclear (ITS) region in 245 individuals from 23 populations sampled throughout the species’ range. Two distinct lineages, with eastern and western geographical distributions respectively, were identified from a phylogenetic analysis of ITS sequence variation. Based on a fast substitution rate, these were estimated to have diverged from each other in the early Pleistocene approximately 1.45 Ma. The analysis of cpDNA variation identified nine chlorotypes that clustered into two major clades that were broadly congruent in geographical distribution with the two ITS lineages. The east–west split of cpDNA divergence was supported by an amova which partitioned approximately half of the total variance between these two groups of populations. Analysis of the spatial distribution of chlorotypes showed that each clade was subdivided into two groups of populations such that a total of four population groups existed in the species. It is suggested that these different groups derive from four independent glacial refugia that existed during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), and that three of these refugia were located at high altitude on the QTP platform itself at that time. Coalescent simulation of chlorotype genealogies supported both an early Pleistocene origin of the two main cpDNA clades and also the ‘four-refugia’ hypothesis during the LGM. Two previous phylogeographical studies of QTP alpine plants indicated that such plants retreated to refugia at the eastern/south-eastern plateau edge during the LGM and/or previous glacial maxima. However, the results for A. gymnandrum suggest that at least some of these cold-tolerant species may have also survived centrally on the QTP platform throughout the Quaternary.

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