Molecular data and ecological niche modelling reveal a highly dynamic evolutionary history of the East Asian Tertiary relict Cercidiphyllum (Cercidiphyllaceae)
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- •East Asia’s temperate deciduous forests served as sanctuary for Tertiary relict trees, but their ages and response to past climate change remain largely unknown. To address this issue, we elucidated the evolutionary and population demographic history of Cercdiphyllum, comprising species in China/Japan (Cercdiphyllum japonicum) and central Japan (Cercdiphyllum magnificum).
- •Fifty-three populations were genotyped using chloroplast and ribosomal DNA sequences and microsatellite loci to assess molecular structure and diversity in relation to past (Last Glacial Maximum) and present distributions based on ecological niche modelling.
- •Late Tertiary climate cooling was reflected in a relatively recent speciation event, dated at the Mio-/Pliocene boundary. During glacials, the warm-temperate C. japonicum experienced massive habitat losses in some areas (north-central China/north Japan) but increases in others (southwest/-east China, East China Sea landbridge, south Japan). In China, the Sichuan Basin and/or the middle-Yangtze were source areas of postglacial northward recolonization; in Japan, this may have been facilitated through introgressive hybridization with the cool-temperate C. magnificum.
- •Our findings challenge the notion of relative evolutionary and demographic stability of Tertiary relict trees, and may serve as a guideline for assessing the impact of Neogene climate change on the evolution and distribution of East Asian temperate plants.