The not-so-Irish spurge: Euphorbia hyberna (Euphorbiaceae) and the Littletonian plant ‘steeplechase’

Gemma E. Beatty, Jack J. Lennon, Chris J. O'Sullivan, Jim Provan

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The disjunct distributions of the Lusitanian flora, which are found only in south-west Ireland and northern Iberia, and are generally absent from intervening regions, have been of great interest to biogeographers. There has been much debate as to whether Irish populations represent relicts that survived the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; approximately 21 kya), or whether they recolonized from southern refugia subsequent to the retreat of the ice and, if so, whether this occurred directly (i.e. the result of long distance dispersal) or successively (i.e. in the manner of a ‘steeplechase’, with the English Channel and Irish Sea representing successive ‘water-jumps’ that have to be successfully crossed). In the present study, we used a combined palaeodistribution modelling and phylogeographical approach to determine the glacial history of the Irish spurge, Euphorbia hyberna, the sole member of the Lusitanian flora that is also considered to occur naturally in south-western England. Our findings suggest that the species persisted through the LGM in several southern refugia, and that northern populations are the result of successive recolonization of Britain and Ireland during the postglacial Littletonian warm stage, akin to the ‘steeplechase’ hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-259
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
Early online date30 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


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