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Genetic structure and evolution of Alpine polyploid complexes: Ranunculus kuepferi (Ranunculaceae) as a case study

Authors

  • J. BURNIER,

    1. Laboratory of Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, CH-2009 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
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    • 1

      These authors have contributed equally and are considered joint first authors.

  • S. BUERKI,

    1. Laboratory of Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, CH-2009 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
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    • 1

      These authors have contributed equally and are considered joint first authors.

  • N. ARRIGO,

    1. Laboratory of Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, CH-2009 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
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  • P. KÜPFER,

    1. Laboratory of Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, CH-2009 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
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  • N. ALVAREZ

    1. Laboratory of Evolutionary Entomology, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, CH-2009 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
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  • Julien Burnier completed this research as the main part of his Masters thesis at the University of Neuchâtel. He is interested in the phylogeography of alpine plants and in GIS, as a tool for testing hypotheses of spatial genetic structure. Sven Buerki is working on the evolutionary history of plants, at small and large spatio-temporal scales, with a focus on biogeographic and systematic questions. He is currently finishing his PhD at the University of Neuchâtel with a scope on the Sapindaceae family. Nils Arrigo investigates the fate of polyploid lineages and develops bioinformatic tools in different areas of research. He is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Neuchâtel, characterizing gene flow between wheat and wild relatives. Philippe Küpfer has dedicated his career to the study of a large number of angiosperm families and has formulated numerous hypotheses regarding the evolution of alpine plants. He is currently honorary professor at the University of Neuchâtel. Nadir Alvarez investigates patterns and processes involved in the ancient and recent evolutionary histories of different groups in plants and insects. He is currently Junior Lecturer at the University of Neuchâtel.

Philippe Küpfer, Fax: +4132 718 3001; E-mail: philippe.kuepfer@unine.ch

Abstract

The alpine white-flowered buttercup, Ranunculus kuepferi Greuter & Burdet, is a polyploid complex with diploids endemic to the southwestern Alps and polyploids – which have been previously described as apomictic – widespread throughout European mountains. Due to the polymorphic status of both its ploidy level and its reproductive mode, R. kuepferi represents a key species for understanding the evolution of polyploid lineages in alpine habitats. To disentangle the phylogeography of this polyploid taxon, we used cpDNA sequences and AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism) markers in 33 populations of R. kuepferi representative of its ploidy level and distribution area. Polyploid individuals were shown to be the result of at least two polyploidization events that may have taken place in the southwestern Alps. From this region, one single main migration of tetraploids colonized the entire Alpine range, the Apennines and Corsica. Genetic recombination among tetraploids was also observed, revealing the facultative nature of the apomictic reproductive mode in R. kuepferi polyploids. Our study shows the contrasting role played by diploid lineages mostly restricted to persistent refugia and by tetraploids, whose dispersal abilities have permitted their range extension all over the previously glaciated Alpine area and throughout neighbouring mountain massifs.

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