Phylogeographic structure of Hippophae tibetana (Elaeagnaceae) highlights the highest microrefugia and the rapid uplift of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau


Wenju Zhang, Fax: +86 (0)21 65642468; E-mail:


The uplift of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) dramatically changed the topography and climate of Asia and affected the biodiversity of the plateau and its adjacent areas. However, the effects of the uplift on the dispersal, differentiation and adaptation of plants remain a puzzle when the date and processes of the uplift cannot be determined with certainty and the impacts of the Quaternary glaciations on plants on the QTP are unknown. To clarify the relationships among plants on the QTP with the plateau uplift and the Quaternary glaciations, the cpDNA trnT-trnF regions of 891 individuals from 37 populations of Hippophae tibetana, endemic to the QTP, were sequenced in the present study. A total of 50 haplotypes were found and a strong phylogeographic structure was revealed (NST = 0.854, GST = 0.611, NST > GST, P < 0.01). The results show that three main lineages of the present populations of H. tibetana occupy the western, the middle, and the eastern geographical range, respectively, and their divergence time dates back to 3.15 Ma before present. Of 50 haplotypes, 33 (66%) are private haplotypes, which are restricted to single populations. These private haplotypes are scattered throughout the present geographical range of H. tibetana and originated from multiple differentiations in many lineages during more than 1.0 Ma period, strongly suggesting that multiple microrefugia of H. tibetana existed throughout the present geographical range during the last glacial maximum (LGM) and even earlier glaciations. Additionally, the average elevation of present populations is over 4500 m in the west and the equilibrium-line of glaciers in the LGM was 500–300 m lower than present in the major interior part of the plateau suggesting that at most sites in the west, LGM microrefugia of H. tibetana may have been above 4000 m above sea level, the highest of all known refugia. Moreover, the divergence times among and within the three lineages and their distinct distributions as well as dispersal barriers support the theory of the recent and rapid uplift of the QTP. The rapid uplift of the plateau within the last 3.4 Ma and the associated environmental changes may have affected the dispersal and differentiation of H .tibetana and shaped its phylogeographic structure.