• amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP);
  • cpDNA;
  • environmental niche models;
  • evergreen broad leaved forest;
  • Rhododendron simsii

Abstract  The phylogeography of common and widespread species can help us to understand the history of local flora and vegetation. Here, we study the semi-evergreen shrub Rhododendron simsii Planch., which is found in most areas of current evergreen broad leaved forest in China. Two noncoding chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) regions (rpl20-rps12 and trnL-F) and three amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) primer sets (E-AAC/M-CTA, E-AGC/M-CTA and E-AGG/M-CAT) were used to examine the phylogeographic pattern in relation to past (last glacial maximum) and present distributions based on ecological niche modeling. The cpDNA data revealed four phylogeographic groups (East, South, West, and North groups) corresponding to geographic regions. Molecular dating suggests that lineage diversification within species likely occurred during the mid-to-late Pleistocene. In contrast, the four main cpDNA phylogeographic groups were not supported by the AFLP dataset. The highest likelihood of the AFLP data was obtained when samples were clustered into three groups (K= 3). However, these groupings did not correspond to separate geographic regions supported by cpDNA data. Both mismatch distribution analysis and environmental niche modeling (ENM) indicated that multiple glacial refugia were maintained across the range of Rhododendron simsii during the last glacial maximum, contrary to the previous hypothesis that subtropical broad leaved evergreen forests were forced to retreat southward as far as 25° N. The discordance between the patterns revealed by cpDNA and AFLP data indicate that localized postglacial range expansions may facilitate extensive gene flow between the major glacial refugia.