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Past and future demographic dynamics of alpine species: limited genetic consequences despite dramatic range contraction in a plant from the Spanish Sierra Nevada


Correspondence: José Luis Blanco-Pastor, Fax: +34914200157; E-mail:


Anthropogenic global climate change is expected to cause severe range contractions among alpine plants. Alpine areas in the Mediterranean region are of special concern because of the high abundance of endemic species with narrow ranges. This study combined species distribution models, population structure analyses and Bayesian skyline plots to trace the past and future distribution and diversity of Linaria glacialis, an endangered narrow endemic species that inhabits summits of Sierra Nevada (Spain). The results showed that: (i) the habitat of this alpine-Mediterranean species in Sierra Nevada suffered little changes during glacial and interglacial stages of late Quaternary; (ii) climatic oscillations in the last millennium (Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age) moderately affected the demographic trends of Lglacialis; (iii) future warming conditions will cause severe range contractions; and (iv) genetic diversity will not diminish at the same pace as the distribution range. As a consequence of the low population structure of this species, genetic impoverishment in the alpine zones of Sierra Nevada should be limited during range contraction. We conclude that maintenance of large effective population sizes via high mutation rates and high levels of gene flow may promote the resilience of alpine plant species when confronted with global warming.

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