The medicinal shrub Carapichea ipecacuanha (ipecac) is an amphitropic species with three disjunct areas of distribution. In the Brazilian Atlantic and Amazonian ranges, the species was associated mostly with the understory of seasonal semideciduous forests, whereas in the Central American–Colombian range, the species occurred in the understory of moist evergreen forests. We examined the phylogeographic structure of ipecac using chloroplast trnT-trnL and nuclear internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences from 120 and 46 specimens, respectively. To complement existing data on root alkaloid profiles, we used high-performance liquid chromatography to assess the levels of emetine and cephaeline in 33 specimens from the two Brazilian ranges. The three ranges shared neither nuclear nor chloroplast haplotypes. The phylogeographic structures showed an uneven distribution of genetic diversity, sharp breaks and high levels of genetic differentiation among ranges. Our results suggest that the extant populations are descendents of at least four distinct ancestral lineages. The Atlantic ipecacs showed higher levels of genetic diversity than ipecacs from the other two ranges; it is likely that they derive from two ancestral lineages, with long-term persistence in that region. The Amazonian ipecacs were monomorphic with respect to the ITS and cpDNA sequences, which supports the view that there was a recent expansion from a single parental source after a strong genetic bottleneck. The existence of a fourth distinct lineage is apparent from the high levels of genetic and chemical differentiation that we identified in the Central American–Columbian ipecacs.
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