Refining expectations for environmental characteristics of refugia: two ranges of differing elevation and topographical complexity are mesic refugia in an arid landscape

M Byrne, DJ Coates, B MacDonald, S McArthur, M Zhou, MA Millar, SJ van Leeuwen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: Topographically complex areas are hypothesized to be mesic refugia in arid environments during periods of climatic change. We tested the hypothesis that an elevated and topographically complex range has been a historical refugium in an arid environment during Pleistocene climatic oscillations for a widespread eucalypt.
Location: Pilbara region, north-west Australia.
Methods: We evaluated genetic diversity and differentiation in chloroplast and nuclear genomes using microsatellite loci in 20 populations of Eucalyptus leucophloia from across the distribution in the Pilbara bioregion, including two ranges with differing topographical complexity and elevation. We evaluated phylogeographical structure using Permut and Network analysis, and assessed genetic structure using principle coordinate (PCoA) and Bayesian analyses.
Results: We found moderate levels of genetic diversity and low genetic differentiation among populations, typical of widespread eucalypts. There was no evidence of genetic structure across the sampled range. Populations in both the Hamersley and Chichester ranges showed higher levels of chloroplast haplotype and nuclear diversity than those in surrounding areas. Diversity was negatively correlated with evapotranspiration, and positively correlated with precipitation.
Main conclusions: Genetic signals of high diversity and low differentiation indicated population persistence throughout historical climate change in ranges, with a signal of expansion in surrounding areas. Our analysis was consistent with the hypothesis of the elevated, topographically complex Hamersley Range acting as a refugium, but revealed an unexpected result of the lower elevation, less rugged Chichester Range also being a refugium. Our results suggest refinement to expectations of environmental characteristics that facilitate persistence, where thresholds of mesic environments for refugia may be lower than expected and moisture availability may be an important contributory aspect of elevation and topographical complexity. In contrast to patterns in reptile species, lack of genetic structure associated with geological substrate and geomorphological features indicates dispersal is not impeded by these landscape features for this widespread eucalypt.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2539-2550
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


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