Phylogeography of Liquidambar styraciflua (Altingiaceae) in Mesoamerica: survivors of a Neogene widespread temperate forest (or cloud forest) in North America?
Cloud forests, Mesoamerica, Mexico, Pleistocene
We investigate the genetic variation between populations of the American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), a tree species with a disjunct distribution between northeastern Texas and Mexico, by analyzing sequences of two chloro- plast DNA plastid regions in Mesoamerica. Our results revealed phylogeograph- ical structure, with private haplotypes distributed in unique environmental space at either side of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, and a split in the absence of gene flow dating back ca. 4.2–1.4 million years ago (MYA). Species distribution modeling results fit a model of refugia along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts but the present ranges of US and Mesoamerican populations persisted disjunct during glacial/interglacial cycles. Divergence between the US and Meso- american (ca. 8.4–2.8 MYA) populations of L. styraciflua and asymmetrical gene flow patterns support the hypothesis of a long-distance dispersal during the Pliocene, with fragmentation since the most recent glacial advance (120,000 years BP) according to coalescent simulations and high effective migration rates from Mesoamerica to the USA and close to zero in the opposite direction. Our findings implicate the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt as a porous barrier driving genetic divergence of L. styraciflua, corresponding with environmental niche differences, during the Pliocene to Quaternary volcanic arc episode 3.6 MYA, and a Mesoamerican origin of populations in the USA.