Rethinking long-term vegetation dynamics: multiple glacial refugia and local expansion of a species complex

Joseph D. Napier, Guillaume de Lafontaine, Katy D. Heath, Feng Sheng Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence is accumulating that some arcto-boreal plant taxa persisted through the last glacial maximum (LGM) in Alaska and adjacent Canada. However, the spatial patterns of glacial persistence and associated postglacial colonization remain largely unknown. In this study, we investigated the LGM refugia of an alder (Alnus) species complex (n = 3 taxa) and assess the spatiotemporal dynamics of Alnus in this vast region. Specifically, we conducted high-throughput DNA sequencing (ddRADseq) on Alnus foliar samples collected from a dense population network to investigate patterns of genetic structure and infer the presence of glacial lineages. Species distribution modeling (SDM) was used to investigate the probability and possible locations of glacial persistence. These analyses were integrated and then compared with fossil pollen data to identify the locations of refugial populations and spatial patterns of postglacial colonization. Our genetic analyses revealed two glacial lineages with separate geographic origins for each Alnus taxon, suggesting that the genus persisted in multiple LGM refugia. Non-overlapping hindcast distributions based on SDMs further support the presence of multiple, spatially distinct refugia. These ddRADseq and SDM results, in conjunction with reassessment of fossil pollen records, suggest that Alnus expanded from several population nuclei that existed during the LGM and coalesced during the Holocene to form its present range. These results challenge the unidirectional model for postglacial vegetation expansion, implying that climate buffering associated with landscape heterogeneity and adaptation to millennial-scale environmental variability played important roles in driving late-Quaternary population dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1056-1067
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Alaska
  • Alnusspp
  • RADseq genotyping
  • climate change
  • glacial refugia
  • last glacial maximum
  • range dynamics
  • species distribution modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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