Genetic roadmap of the Arctic: plant dispersal highways, traffic barriers and capitals of diversity



  • We provide the first comparative multispecies analysis of spatial genetic structure and diversity in the circumpolar Arctic using a common strategy for sampling and genetic analyses. We aimed to identify and explain potential general patterns of genetic discontinuity/connectivity and diversity, and to compare our findings with previously published hypotheses.
  • We collected and analyzed 7707 samples of 17 widespread arctic–alpine plant species for amplified fragment length polymorphisms (AFLPs). Genetic structure, diversity and distinctiveness were analyzed for each species, and extrapolated to cover the geographic range of each species. The resulting maps were overlaid to produce metamaps.
  • The Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, the Greenlandic ice cap, the Urals, and lowland areas between southern mountain ranges and the Arctic were the strongest barriers against gene flow. Diversity was highest in Beringia and gradually decreased into formerly glaciated areas. The highest degrees of distinctiveness were observed in Siberia.
  • We conclude that large-scale general patterns exist in the Arctic, shaped by the Pleistocene glaciations combined with long-standing physical barriers against gene flow. Beringia served as both refugium and source for interglacial (re)colonization, whereas areas further west in Siberia served as refugia, but less as sources for (re)colonization.