Reconstructing geographical parthenogenesis: effects of niche differentiation and reproductive mode on Holocene range expansion of an alpine plant

Asexual taxa often have larger ranges than their sexual progenitors, particularly in areas affected by Pleistocene glaciations.

The reasons given for this ‘geographical parthenogenesis’ are con- tentious, with expansion of the ecological niche or colonisation advantages of uniparental repro- duction assumed most important in case of plants. Here, we parameterized a spread model for the alpine buttercup Ranunculus kuepferi and reconstructed the joint Holocene range expansion of its sexual and apomictic cytotype across the European Alps under different simulation settings. We found that, rather than niche broadening or a higher migration rate, a shift of the apomict’s niche towards colder conditions per se was crucial as it facilitated overcoming of topographical barriers, a factor likely relevant for many alpine apomicts. More generally, our simulations suggest poten- tially strong interacting effects of niche differentiation and reproductive modes on range forma- tion of related sexual and asexual taxa arising from their differential sensitivity to minority cytotype disadvantage.

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