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Open Access Research article

A strong ‘filter’ effect of the East China Sea land bridge for East Asia’s temperate plant species: inferences from molecular phylogeography and ecological niche modelling of Platycrater arguta (Hydrangeaceae)

Xin-Shuai Qi12, Na Yuan12, Hans Peter Comes3, Shota Sakaguchi4 and Ying-Xiong Qiu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Key Laboratory of Conservation Biology for Endangered Wildlife of the Ministry of Education, College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

2 Laboratory of Systematic & Evolutionary Botany and Biodiversity, College of Life Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

3 Department of Organismic Biology, Salzburg University, Salzburg A-5020, Austria

4 Laboratory of Plant Evolution and Biodiversity, Department of General Systems Studies, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo 153-8902, Japan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:41  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-41

Published: 4 March 2014

Abstract

Background

In East Asia, an increasing number of studies on temperate forest tree species find evidence for migration and gene exchange across the East China Sea (ECS) land bridge up until the last glacial maximum (LGM). However, it is less clear when and how lineages diverged in this region, whether in full isolation or in the face of post-divergence gene flow. Here, we investigate the effects of Quaternary changes in climate and sea level on the evolutionary and demographic history of Platycrater arguta, a rare temperate understorey shrub with disjunct distributions in East China (var. sinensis) and South Japan (var. arguta). Molecular data were obtained from 14 P. arguta populations to infer current patterns of molecular structure and diversity in relation to past (Last Interglacial and Last Glacial Maximum) and present distributions based on ecological niche modelling (ENM). A coalescent-based isolation-with-migration (IM) model was used to estimate lineage divergence times and population demographic parameters.

Results

Combining information from nuclear/chloroplast sequence data with nuclear microsatellites, our IM analyses identify the two varieties as genetically distinct units that evolved in strict allopatry since the mid-Pleistocene, c. 0.89 (0.51–1.2) Ma. Together with Bayesian Skyeline Plots, our data further suggest that both lineages experienced post-divergence demographic growth, followed by refugial isolation, divergence, and in the case of var. arguta post-glacial admixture. However, past species distribution modelling indicates that the species’ overall distribution has not greatly changed over the last glacial cycles.

Conclusions

Our findings highlight the important influence of ancient sea-level changes on the diversification of East Asia’s temperate flora. Implicitly, they challenge the notion of general temperate forest expansion across the ECS land bridge, demonstrating instead its ‘filter’ effect owing to an unsuitable environment for certain species and their biological (e.g., recruitment) properties.