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Evolutionary dynamics of Euphorbia carniolica suggest a complex Plio-Pleistocene history of understorey species of deciduous forest in southeastern Europe
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  • Philipp Kirschner,
  • Eliška Záveská,
  • Karl Huelber,
  • Johannes Wessely,
  • Wolfgang Willner,
  • Peter Schönswetter,
  • Bozo Frajman
Philipp Kirschner
University of Innsbruck

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Eliška Záveská
Czech Academy of Sciences
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Karl Huelber
University of Vienna
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Johannes Wessely
University of Vienna
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Wolfgang Willner
University of Vienna
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Peter Schönswetter
University of Innsbruck
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Bozo Frajman
University of Innsbruck
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Deciduous forests form the dominant natural vegetation of Europe today, but were restricted to small refugia during Pleistocene cold stages, implying an evolutionary past shaped by recurrent range contractions and expansions. Cold-stage forest refugia were probably widespread in southern and central Europe, with the northwestern Balkan Peninsula being of particular importance. However, the actual number and location of deciduous forest refugia, as well as the connections between them, remain disputed. Here, we address the evolutionary dynamics of the deciduous forest understorey species Euphorbia carniolica as a proxy for past forest dynamics. To do so, we obtained genomic and morphometric data from populations representing the species' entire range, investigated phylogenetic position and intraspecific genetic variation, tested explicit demographic scenarios and applied species distribution models. Our data support two disjoint groups linked to separate refugia on the northwestern and central Balkan Peninsula. We find that genetic differentiation between groups started in the early Pleistocene via vicariance, suggesting a larger distribution in the past. Both refugia acted as sources for founder events to the southeastern Alps and the Carpathians, whereas the latter were likely colonized before the last cold stage. In line with traditional views on the pre-Pleistocene origin of many southeastern European deciduous forest species, the origin of E. carniolica was dated to the late Pliocene. The fact that E. carniolica evolved at a time when a period of continuous forestation was ending in much of Eurasia provides an interesting biogeographical perspective on the past links between Eurasian deciduous forests and their biota.
06 Mar 2023Submitted to Molecular Ecology
08 Mar 2023Submission Checks Completed
08 Mar 2023Assigned to Editor
08 Mar 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
09 Mar 2023Reviewer(s) Assigned
24 May 2023Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
22 Jun 20231st Revision Received
23 Jun 2023Submission Checks Completed
23 Jun 2023Assigned to Editor
23 Jun 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
24 Jun 2023Reviewer(s) Assigned
19 Jul 2023Editorial Decision: Accept