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Open Access Research article

Comparative phylogeography of two related plant species with overlapping ranges in Europe, and the potential effects of climate change on their intraspecific genetic diversity

Gemma E Beatty and Jim Provan*

Author Affiliations

School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University Belfast, 97 Lisburn Road, Belfast BT9 7BL, Northern Ireland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-29

Published: 27 January 2011



The aim of the present study was to use a combined phylogeographic and species distribution modelling approach to compare the glacial histories of two plant species with overlapping distributions, Orthilia secunda (one-sided wintergreen) and Monotropa hypopitys (yellow bird's nest). Phylogeographic analysis was carried out to determine the distribution of genetic variation across the range of each species and to test whether both correspond to the "classic" model of high diversity in the south, with decreasing diversity at higher latitudes, or whether the cold-adapted O. secunda might retain more genetic variation in northern populations. In addition, projected species distributions based on a future climate scenario were modelled to assess how changes in the species ranges might impact on total intraspecific diversity in both cases.


Palaeodistribution modelling and phylogeographic analysis using multiple genetic markers (chloroplast trnS-trnG region, nuclear ITS and microsatellites for O. secunda; chloroplast rps2, nuclear ITS and microsatellites for M. hypopitys) indicated that both species persisted throughout the Last Glacial Maximum in southern refugia. For both species, the majority of the genetic diversity was concentrated in these southerly populations, whereas those in recolonized areas generally exhibited lower levels of diversity, particularly in M. hypopitys. Species distribution modelling based on projected future climate indicated substantial changes in the ranges of both species, with a loss of southern and central populations, and a potential northward expansion for the temperate M. hypopitys.


Both Orthilia secunda and Monotropa hypopitys appear to have persisted through the LGM in Europe in southern refugia. The boreal O. secunda, however, has retained a larger proportion of its genetic diversity in more northerly populations outside these refugial areas than the temperate M. hypopitys. Given that future species distribution modelling suggests northern range shifts and loss of suitable habitat in the southern parts of the species' current distributions, extinction of genetically diverse rear edge populations could have a significant effect in the rangewide intraspecific diversity of both species, but particularly in M. hypopitys.