The arctic–alpine Ranunculus glacialis s. l. is distributed in high-mountain ranges of temperate Europe and in the North, where it displays an extreme disjunction between the North Atlantic Arctic and Beringia. Based on comprehensive sampling and employing plastid and nuclear marker systems, we (i) test whether the European/Beringian disjunction correlates with the main evolutionary diversification, (ii) reconstruct the phylogeographic history in the Arctic and in temperate mountains and (iii) assess the susceptibility of arctic and mountain populations to climate change. Both data sets revealed several well-defined lineages, mostly with a coherent geographic distribution. The deepest evolutionary split did not coincide with the European/Beringian disjunction but occurred within the Alps. The Beringian lineage and North Atlantic Arctic populations, which reached their current distribution via rapid postglacial colonization, show connections to two divergent pools of Central European populations. Thus, immigration into the Arctic probably occurred at least twice. The presence of a rare cpDNA lineage related to Beringia in the Carpathians supports the role of these mountains as a stepping stone between temperate Europe and the non-European Arctic, and as an important area of high-mountain biodiversity. The temperate and arctic ranges presented contrasting phylogeographic histories: a largely static distribution in the former and rapid latitudinal spread in the latter. The persistence of ancient lineages with a strictly regional distribution suggests that the ability of R. glacialis to survive repeated climatic changes within southern mountain ranges is greater than what recently was predicted for alpine plants from climatic envelope modelling.
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