Open Access Research article

Tracking the evolutionary history of Cortinarius species in section Calochroi, with transoceanic disjunct distributions

Sigisfredo Garnica1*, Philipp Spahn2, Bernhard Oertel3, Joseph Ammirati4 and Franz Oberwinkler1

Author Affiliations

1 Organismic Botany, Institute of Evolution and Ecology, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 1, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany

2 Division of Animal Genetics, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 28, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany

3 INRES Gartenbauwissenschaft, University of Bonn, Auf dem Hügel 6, D-53121 Bonn, Germany

4 Department of Biology, Box 351330, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:213  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-213

Published: 19 July 2011



Cortinarius species in section Calochroi display local, clinal and circumboreal patterns of distribution across the Northern Hemisphere where these ectomycorrhizal fungi occur with host trees throughout their geographical range within a continent, or have disjunct intercontinental distributions, the origins of which are not understood. We inferred evolutionary histories of four species, 1) C. arcuatorum, 2) C. aureofulvus, 3) C. elegantior and 4) C. napus, from populations distributed throughout the Old World, and portions of the New World (Central- and North America) based on genetic variation of 154 haplotype internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences from 83 population samples. By describing the population structure of these species across their geographical distribution, we attempt to identify their historical migration and patterns of diversification.


Models of population structure from nested clade, demographic and coalescent-based analyses revealed genetically differentiated and geographically structured haplotypes in C. arcuatorum and C. elegantior, while C. aureofulvus showed considerably less population structure and C. napus lacked sufficient genetic differentiation to resolve any population structure. Disjunct populations within C. arcuatorum, C. aureofulvus and C. elegantior show little or no morphological differentiation, whereas in C. napus there is a high level of homoplasy and phenotypic plasticity for veil and lamellae colour. The ITS sequences of the type specimens of C. albobrunnoides and C. albobrunnoides var. violaceovelatus were identical to one another and are treated as one species with a wider range of geographic distribution under C. napus.


Our results indicate that each of the Calochroi species has undergone a relatively independent evolutionary history, hypothesised as follows: 1) a widely distributed ancestral population of C. arcuatorum diverged into distinctive sympatric populations in the New World; 2) two divergent lineages in C. elegantior gave rise to the New World and Old World haplotypes, respectively; and 3) the low levels of genetic divergence within C. aureofulvus and C. napus may be the result of more recent demographic population expansions. The scenario of migration via the Bering Land Bridge provides the most probable explanation for contemporaneous disjunct geographic distributions of these species, but it does not offer an explanation for the low degree of genetic divergence between populations of C. aureofulvus and C. napus. Our findings are mostly consistent with the designation of New World allopatric populations as separate species from the European counterpart species C. arcuatorum and C. elegantior. We propose the synonymy of C. albobrunnoides, C. albobrunnoides var. violaceovelatus and C. subpurpureophyllus var. sulphureovelatus with C. napus. The results also reinforce previous observations that linked C. arcuatorum and C. aureofulvus displaying distributions in parts of North America and Europe. Interpretations of the population structure of these fungi suggest that host tree history has heavily influenced their modern distributions; however, the complex issues related to co-migration of these fungi with their tree hosts remain unclear at this time.