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Keywords:

  • Biogeography;
  • coalescent theory;
  • gene flow;
  • molecular evolution;
  • phylogeography;
  • population genetics

Genetic and morphological similarity between populations separated by large distances may be caused by frequent long-distance dispersal or retained ancestral polymorphism. The frequent lack of differentiation between disjunct conspecific moss populations on different continents has traditionally been explained by the latter model, and has been cited as evidence that many or most moss species are extremely ancient and slowly diverging. We have studied intercontinental differentiation in the amphi-Atlantic peat moss Sphagnum angermanicum using 23 microsatellite markers. Two major genetic clusters are found, both of which occur throughout the distributional range. Patterns of genetic structuring and overall migration patterns suggest that the species probably originated in North America, and seems to have been established twice in Northern Europe during the past 40,000 years. We conclude that similarity between S. angermanicum populations on different continents is not the result of ancient vicariance and subsequent stasis. Rather, the observed pattern can be explained by multiple long-distance dispersal over limited evolutionary time. The genetic similarity can also partly be explained by incomplete lineage sorting, but this appears to be caused by the short time since separation. Our study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that Sphagnum, constituting a significant part of northern hemisphere biodiversity, may be more evolutionary dynamic than previously assumed.