The origin of conifer genera, the main components of mountain temperate and boreal forests, was deemed to arise in the Mesozoic, although paleontological records and molecular data point to a recent diversification, presumably related to Neogene cooling. The geographical area(s) where the modern lines of conifers emerged remains uncertain, as is the sequence of events leading to their present distribution. To gain further insights into the biogeography of firs (Abies), we conducted phylogenetic analyses of chloroplast, mitochondrial and nuclear markers. The species tree, generated from ten single-copy nuclear genes, yielded probably the best phylogenetic hypothesis available for Abies. The tree obtained from five regions of chloroplast DNA largely corresponded to the nuclear species tree. Ancestral area reconstructions based on fossil calibrated chloroplast DNA and nuclear DNA trees pointed to repeated intercontinental migrations. The mitochondrial DNA haplotype tree, however, disagreed with nuclear and chloroplast DNA trees. It consisted of two clusters: one included mainly American haplotypes, while the other was composed of only Eurasian haplotypes. Presumably, this conflict is due to inter-continental migrations and introgressive hybridization, accompanied by the capture of the mitotypes from aboriginal species by the invading firs. Given that several species inhabiting Northeastern Asia carry American mitotypes and mutations typical for the American cluster, whereas no Asian mitotypes were detected within the American species, we hypothesize that Abies migrated from America to Eurasia, but not in the opposite direction. The direction and age of intercontinental migrations in firs are congruent with other conifers, such as spruces and pines of subsection Strobus, suggesting that these events had the same cause.
Keywords: Abies; Bering Land Bridge; Intercontinental migrations; Introgressive hybridization; Mitochondrial DNA capture; Molecular dating; Multilocus phylogeny; Species tree.
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