Of glaciers and refugia: a decade of study sheds new light on the phylogeography of northwestern North America

Mol Ecol. 2010 Nov;19(21):4589-621. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04828.x. Epub 2010 Sep 17.


Glacial cycles have played a dominant role in shaping the genetic structure and distribution of biota in northwestern North America. The two major ice age refugia of Beringia and the Pacific Northwest were connected by major mountain chains and bordered by the Pacific Ocean. As a result, numerous refugial options were available for the regions taxa during glacial advances. We reviewed the importance of glaciations and refugia in shaping northwestern North America's phylogeographic history. We also tested whether ecological variables were associated with refugial history. The recurrent phylogeographic patterns that emerged were the following: (i) additional complexity, i.e. refugia within refugia, in both Beringia and the Pacific Northwest; and (ii) strong evidence for cryptic refugia in the Alexander Archipelago and Haida Gwaii, the Canadian Arctic and within the ice-sheets. Species with contemporary ranges that covered multiple refugia, or those with high dispersal ability, were significantly more likely to have resided in multiple refugia. Most of the shared phylogeographic patterns can be attributed to multiple refugial locales during the last glacial maximum or major physiographic barriers like rivers and glaciers. However, some of the observed patterns are much older and appear connected to the orogeny of the Cascade-Sierra chain or allopatric differentiation during historic glacial advances. The emergent patterns from this review suggest we should refine the classic Beringian-southern refugial paradigm for northwestern North American biota and highlight the ecological and evolutionary consequences of colonization from multiple refugia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Biota
  • Canada
  • Ice Cover*
  • Northwestern United States
  • Phylogeography*