Molecular analysis of the Pleistocene history of Saxifraga oppositifolia in the Alps

R Holderegger, I Stehlik, Richard John Abbott

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74 Citations (Scopus)


A recent circumpolar survey of chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) haplotypes identified Pleistocene glacial refugia for the Arctic-Alpine Saxifraga oppositifolia in the Arctic and, potentially, at more southern latitudes. However, evidence for glacial refugia within the ice sheet covering northern Europe during the last glacial period was not detected either with cpDNA or in another study of S. oppositifolia that surveyed random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) variation. If any genotypes survived in such refugia, they must have been swamped by massive postglacial immigration of periglacial genotypes. The present study tested whether it is possible to reconstruct the Pleistocene history of S. oppositifolia in the European Alps using molecular methods. Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis of cpDNA of S. oppositifolia , partly sampled from potential nunatak areas, detected two common European haplotypes throughout the Alps, while three populations harboured two additional, rare haplotypes. RAPD analysis confirmed the results of former studies on S. oppositifolia ; high within, but low among population genetic variation and no particular geographical patterning. Some Alpine populations were not perfectly nested in this common gene pool and contained private RAPD markers, high molecular variance or rare cpDNA haplotypes, indicating that the species could possibly have survived on ice-free mountain tops (nunataks) in some parts of the Alps during the last glaciation. However, the overall lack of a geographical genetic pattern suggests that there was massive immigration of cpDNA and RAPD genotypes by seed and pollen flow during postglacial times. Thus, the glacial history of S. oppositifolia in the Alps appears to resemble closely that suggested previously for the species in northern Europe.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1409-1418
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Ecology
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2002


  • Alpine species
  • cpDNA RFLPs
  • phylogeography
  • Pleistocene glacial survival
  • RAPDs
  • Saxifraga oppositifolia


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