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Phylogeographic patterns of steppe species in Eastern Central Europe: a review and the implications for conservation

Kajtoch, Łukasz, Cieślak, Elżbieta, Varga, Zoltán, Paul, Wojciech, Mazur, Miłosz A., Sramkó, Gábor, Kubisz, Daniel
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.12 pp. 2309-2339
refuge habitats, Coleoptera, reptiles, steppes, genetic similarity, extinction, butterflies, phylogeography, Angiospermae, rodents, Central European region
The phylogeography of species associated with European steppes and extrazonal xeric grasslands is poorly understood. This paper summarizes the results of recent studies on the phylogeography and conservation genetics of animals (20 taxa of beetles, butterflies, reptiles and rodents) and flowering plants (18 taxa) of such, "steppic" habitats in Eastern Central Europe. Most species show a similar phylogeographic pattern: relatively high genetic similarity within regional groups of populations and moderate-to-high genetic distinctiveness of populations from currently isolated regions located in the studied area. This distinctiveness of populations suggests a survival here during glacial maxima, including areas north of the Bohemian Massif-Carpathians arc. Steppic species generally do not follow the paradigmatic patterns known for temperate biota (south-north “contraction–expansion”), but to some extent are similar to those of arctic-alpine taxa. There are three main groups of taxa within Eastern Central Europe that differ in their contemporary distribution pattern, which may reflect historical origin and expansion routes. Present diversity patterns of the studied steppic species suggest that they share a unique genetic signature and distinct assemblages exist in each of the now isolated areas rich in steppic habitats. At least some of these areas probably act as present “interglacial refugia” for steppic species. This study strongly supports the need to protect steppic species throughout their entire ranges in the region, as the continuous destruction of steppic habitats in some areas may lead not only to the disappearance of local populations, but also to the extinction of unique evolutionary units.