When climates change, plants and animals often are forced to colonize new areas – or possibly go extinct. Because the climate is currently changing, biologists are keenly interested in predicting how climate-induced migrations influence organisms over time.
In a study to be published in the journal Evolution Letters, Washington State Unviersity biologists Nathan C. Layman, Carly J. Prior, and Jeremiah W. Busch, along with researchers at the University of Virginia, reveal how the colonization of new environments after the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago, fundamentally altered the American bellflower, a wildflower native to Virginia.
The WSU researchers sequenced the genomes of American bellflowers from across their current geographic range. They found patterns of genetic mutations that helped them identify a location in what is now eastern Kentucky, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where the plant likely persisted during the last glaciation. They also showed that the process of expansion to the species’ current range in the eastern United States involved repeated periods when populations were small and gradually increasing through colonization.