Sky islands as foci for divergence of fig trees and their pollinators in southwest China

14 Sep 2020

The dynamics of populations and their divergence over time have shaped current levels of biodiversity and in the case of the “sky islands” of mountainous southwest (SW) China have resulted in an area of exceptional botanical diversity. Ficus tikoua is a prostrate fig tree subendemic to the area that displays unique intraspecific diversity, producing figs typical of different pollination modes in different parts of its range. By combining climate models, genetic variation in populations of the tree's obligate fig wasp pollinators and distributions of the different plant phenotypes, we examined how this unusual situation may have developed. We identified three genetically distinct groups of a single Ceratosolen pollinator species that have largely parapatric distributions. The complex topography of the region contributed to genetic divergence among the pollinators by facilitating geographical isolation and providing refugia. Migration along elevations in response to climate oscillations further enhanced genetic differentiation of the three pollinator groups. Their distributions loosely correspond to the distributions of the functionally significant morphological differences in the male figs of their host plants, but postglacial expansion of one group has not been matched by spread of its associated plant phenotype, possibly due to a major river barrier. The results highlight how interplay between the complex topography of the “sky island” complex and climate change has shaped intraspecies differentiation and relationships between the plant and its pollinator. Similar processes may explain the exceptional botanical diversity of SW China.