Genome-wide analysis of Cushion willow provides insights into alpine plant divergence in a biodiversity hotspot

Jia-hui Chen, Yuan Huang, Benjamin Brachi, Quan-zheng Yun, Wei Zhang, Wei Lu, Hong-na Li, Wen-qing Li, Xu-dong Sun, Guang-yan Wang, Jun He, Zhuo Zhuo, Kai-yun Chen, Yun-heng Li, Ming-ming Shi, Wen-guang Sun, Yong-ping Yang, Ren-gang Zhang, Richard John Abbott, Hang Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The Hengduan Mountains (HDM) biodiversity hotspot exhibits exceptional alpine plant diversity. Here, we investigate factors driving intraspecific divergence within a HDM alpine species Salix brachista (Cushion willow), a common component of subnival assemblages. We produce a high-quality genome assembly for this species and characterize its genetic diversity, population structure and pattern of evolution by resequencing individuals collected across its distribution. We detect population divergence that has been shaped by a landscape of isolated sky island-like habitats displaying strong environmental heterogeneity across elevational gradients, combined with population size fluctuations that have occurred since approximately the late Miocene. These factors are likely important drivers of intraspecific divergence within Cushion willow and possibly other alpine plants with a similar distribution. Since intraspecific divergence is often the first step toward speciation, the same factors can be important contributors to the high alpine species diversity in the HDM.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5230
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2019


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