Large scale patterns of genetic variation and differentiation in sugar maple from tropical Central America to temperate North America

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© 2015 Vargas-Rodriguez et al. Background: Geological events in the latter Cenozoic have influenced the distribution, abundance and genetic structure of tree populations in temperate and tropical North America. The biogeographical history of temperate vegetation that spans large ranges of latitude is complex, involving multiple latitudinal shifts that might have occurred via different migration routes. We determined the regional structuring of genetic variation of sugar maple (Acer saccharum subsp. saccharum) and its only subspecies in tropical America (Acer saccharum subsp. skutchii) using nuclear and chloroplast data. The studied populations span a geographic range from Maine, USA (46°N), to El Progreso, Guatemala (15°N). We examined genetic subdivisions, explored the locations of ancestral haplotypes, analyzed genetic data to explore the presence of a single or multiple glacial refugia, and tested whether genetic lineages are temporally consistent with a Pleistocene or older divergence. Results: Nuclear and chloroplast data indicated that populations in midwestern USA and western Mexico were highly differentiated from populations in the rest of the sites. The time of the most recent common ancestor of the western Mexico haplotype lineage was dated to the Pliocene (5.9 Ma, 95 % HPD: 4.3-7.3 Ma). Splits during the Pleistocene separated the rest of the phylogroups. The most frequent and widespread haplotype occurred in half of the sites (Guatemala, eastern Mexico, southeastern USA, and Ohio). Our data also suggested that multiple Pleistocene refugia (tropics-southeastern USA, midwestern, and northeastern USA), but not western Mexico (Jalisco), contributed to post-glacial northward expansion of ranges. Current southern Mexican and Guatemalan populations have reduced population sizes, genetic bottlenecks and tend toward homozygosity, as indicated using nuclear and chloroplast markers. Conclusions: The divergence of western Mexican populations from the rest of the sugar maples likely resulted from orographic and volcanic barriers to gene flow. Past connectivity among populations in the southeastern USA and eastern Mexico and Guatemala possible occurred through gene flow during the Pleistocene. The time to the most common ancestor values revealed that populations from the Midwest and Northeast USA represented different haplotype lineages, indicating major divergence of haplotypes lineages before the Last Glacial Maximum and suggesting the existence of multiple glacial refugia.

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BMC Evolutionary Biology

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