Present, past and future of the European rock fern Asplenium fontanum: combining distribution modelling and population genetics to study the effect of climate change on geographic range and genetic diversity.
Asplenium, Biodiversity conservation, migration, Phylogeography
Background and AimsClimate change is expected to alter the geographic range of many plant species dramatically. Predicting this response will be critical to managing the conservation of plant resources and the effects of invasive species. The aim of this study was to predict the response of temperate homosporous ferns to climate change.MethodsGenetic diversity and changes in distribution range were inferred for the diploid rock fern Asplenium fontanum along a South-North transect, extending from its putative last glacial maximum (LGM) refugia in southern France towards southern Germany and eastern-central France. This study reconciles observations from distribution models and phylogeographic analyses derived from plastid and nuclear diversity.Key ResultsGenetic diversity distribution and niche modelling propose that genetic diversity accumulates in the LGM climate refugium in southern France with the formation of a diversity gradient reflecting a slow, post-LGM range expansion towards the current distribution range. Evidence supports the fern's preference for outcrossing, contradicting the expectation that homosporous ferns would populate new sites by single-spore colonization. Prediction of climate and distribution range change suggests that a dramatic loss of range and genetic diversity in this fern is possible. The observed migration is best described by the phalanx expansion model.ConclusionsThe results suggest that homosporous ferns reproducing preferentially by outcrossing accumulate genetic diversity primarily in LGM climate refugia and may be threatened if these areas disappear due to global climate change.