Identifying refugia from climate change using coupled ecological and genetic data in a transitional Mediterranean-temperate tree species


Correspondence: Martina Temunović, Fax: + 385 (0)1 235 2513; E-mail:


Populations occurring in areas of overlap between the current and future distribution of a species are particularly important because they can represent “refugia from climate change”. We coupled ecological and range-wide genetic variation data to detect such areas and to evaluate the impacts of habitat suitability changes on the genetic diversity of the transitional Mediterranean-temperate tree Fraxinus angustifolia. We sampled and genotyped 38 natural populations comprising 1006 individuals from across Europe. We found the highest genetic diversity in western and northern Mediterranean populations, as well as a significant west to east decline in genetic diversity. Areas of potential refugia that correspond to approximately 70% of the suitable habitat may support the persistence of more than 90% of the total number of alleles in the future. Moreover, based on correlations between Bayesian genetic assignment and climate, climate change may favour the westward spread of the Black Sea gene pool in the long term. Overall, our results suggest that the northerly core areas of the current distribution contain the most important part of the genetic variation for this species and may serve as in situ macrorefugia from ongoing climate change. However, rear-edge populations of the southern Mediterranean may be exposed to a potential loss of unique genetic diversity owing to habitat suitability changes unless populations can persist in microrefugia that have facilitated such persistence in the past.