Arctic-alpine plants have enormous ranges in the Northern Hemisphere. Phylogeographic studies have provided insights into their glacial survival as well as their postglacial colonization history. However, our understanding of the population dynamics of disjunct alpine populations in temperate regions remains limited. During Pleistocene cold periods, alpine populations of arctic-alpine species in East Asia were either connected to an ice-free Beringia refugium or they persisted with prolonged isolation after their establishment. To estimate which of these scenarios is more likely, we elucidated the genetic structure of Phyllodoce caerulea (Ericaceae) in Beringia and northern Japan, East Asia. Sequence variation in multiple nuclear loci revealed that P. caerulea can be distinguished into northern and southern groups. A demographic analysis demonstrated that the north-south divergence did not predate the last glacial period and detected introgression from Phyllodoce aleutica, relative widely distributed in East Asia, exclusively into the southern group. Therefore, although there has been genetic divergence between northern Japan and Beringia in P. caerulea, the divergence is unlikely to have resulted from their prolonged geographic separation throughout several cycles of glacial and interglacial periods. Instead, our study suggests that the introgression contributed to the genetic divergence of P. caerulea and that the range of P. caerulea was plausibly connected between northern Japan and Beringia during the last glacial period. Overall, our study not only provides a biogeographic insight into alpine populations of arctic-alpine plants in East Asia but also emphasizes the importance of careful interpretation of genetic structure for inferring phylogeographic history.
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