Late Miocene lineage divergence and ecological differentiation of rare endemic Juniperus blancoi: clues for the diversification of North American conifers


  • Alejandra Moreno-Letelier,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Ascot, UK
    Current affiliation:
    1. Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico, D.F., Mexico
    • Author for correspondence:

      Alejandra Moreno-Letelier

      Tel: +44 020 72942255


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  • Alicia Mastretta-Yanes,

    1. Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
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  • Timothy G. Barraclough

    1. Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Ascot, UK
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  • Western North America and Mexico contain a large number of conifer species. This diversity could be the product of orographic and climate changes of the late Tertiary and Quaternary. In this study, we focus on the evolutionary history of Juniperus blancoi, in order to determine the impact of climate change and environmental heterogeneity on population differentiation.
  • We estimated the population structure, phylogenetic relationships and historical demography of J. blancoi populations using nuclear genes. We correlated genetic structure with ecological differentiation, divergence times and changes in population size.
  • Populations of J. blancoi are differentiated into three lineages that correspond to low-, mid- and high-altitude populations. The three groups diversified in the late Miocene, early Pliocene, with only a few events of gene flow since then. Two lineages in the north exhibited a pattern of population growth during the Pleistocene that could be linked to climate changes.
  • Populations of J. blancoi experienced significant ecological differentiation and early divergence events, which correspond to periods of global cooling and mountain uplift during the Miocene. This suggests that mountain ranges in tropical and subtropical latitudes play an important role in the speciation and persistence of conifer taxa in diversity hotspots, by providing diverse environmental conditions.