Recent studies have found that geographical fragmentation and recurrent colonization result in complex genetic structures in refugial areas. This phenomenon, known as 'refugia within refugium', has been identified from many geographical locations. In Japan, the high-elevation mountains of central Honshu provided an interglacial refugium for alpine plants. Here we focused on the Geranium yesoense complex, which exhibits increased morphological variation in the refugial area, to determine whether this variation was shaped by recurrent colonization, range fragmentation or phenotypic changes independent of population history. We analysed single nucleotide polymorphism data and chloroplast genome sequences. Diversification in the G. yesoense species complex occurred in the mid-Pleistocene. The varieties are distinct entities and suggest the presence of a genetic cluster with highly disjunct distributions, occurring both in northern Japan and in southern refugial areas in central Honshu. Demographic analysis suggests that a single ancestral variety (var. nipponicum) evolved in the alpine region of central Honshu, and that subsequent migration from one of the two diverged northern varieties (var. pseudopratense) led to secondary contact with var. nipponicum during the last glacial period. Recolonization into refugial populations in central Honshu and hybridization between diverged populations have resulted in complex genetic structures among refugial populations.
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