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Liang, S., X. Zhang, and R. Wei. 2022. Ecological adaptation shaped the genetic structure of homoploid ferns against strong dispersal capacity. Molecular Ecology 31: 2679–2697. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.16420
The formation of spatial genetic structure with the presence of extensive gene flow, an evolutionary force which is generally expected to eliminate population-specific variation and maintain genetic homogeneity, remains poorly understood. Homosporous ferns, which spread by spores through wind and possess long-distance dispersal capacity, provide an ideal system to investigate such a process. Here, using a homoploid fern lineage, the Athyrium sinense complex, we used reduced-representation genomic data to examine spatial genetic structure and explored potential driving forces including geographical distance, environment, climatic history and external dispersal constraints. Our findings showed a clear north-south divergence at the genetic, morphological and ecological levels between both sides of 35°N in East Asia. Fluctuant and heterogeneous climatic condition was demonstrated to play a crucial role during the formation of the divergence. Our results suggested that this lineage was able to migrate southward and colonize new habitat as a result of the Quaternary climatic fluctuation. Furthermore, the present genetic structure is attributed to adaptation to heterogeneous environments, especially temperature difference. In addition to ecological adaptation, we found clues showing that canopy density, wind direction as well as habitat continuity were all likely to constrain the effect of gene flow. These results demonstrated a diversification process without ploidy changes in ferns providing new insights for our present knowledge on ferns’ spatio-temporal evolutionary pattern. In particular, our study highlights the influence of environmental heterogeneity in driving genetic divergence against strong dispersal capacity.