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Despite the strength of climatic variability at high latitudes and upper elevations, we still do not fully understand how plants in North America that are distributed between Arctic and alpine areas responded to the environmental changes of the Quaternary. To address this question, we set out to resolve the evolutionary history of the King’s Crown, Rhodiola integrifolia using multi-locus population genetic and phylogenetic analyses in combination with ecological niche modeling. Our population genetic analyses of multiple anonymous nuclear loci revealed two major clades within R. integrifolia that diverged from each other ~ 700 kya: one occurring in Beringia to the north (including members of subspecies leedyi and part of subspecies integrifolia), and the other restricted to the Southern Rocky Mountain refugium in the south (including individuals of subspecies neomexicana and part of subspecies integrifolia). Ecological niche models corroborate our hypothesized locations of refugial areas inferred from our phylogeographic analyses and revealed some environmental differences between the regions inhabited by its two subclades. Our study underscores the role of geographic isolation in promoting genetic divergence and the evolution of endemic subspecies in R. integrifolia. Furthermore, our phylogenetic analyses of the plastid spacer region trnL-F demonstrate that among the native North American species, R. integrifolia and R. rhodantha are more closely related to one another than either is to R. rosea. An understanding of these historic processes lies at the heart of making informed management decisions regarding this and other Arctic-alpine species of concern in this increasingly threatened biome.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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