Quaternary glaciations strongly affected the distribution of species from arid and semi-arid environments, as temperature drops were accompanied by strong fluctuations in rainfall. In this study, Ossa and colleagues examined the response of xerophytic species to glacial cycles, determining the genetic patterns and climatic niche of Echinopsis chiloensis var. chiloensis, an endemic columnar cactus of arid and semi-arid regions of Chile.
The authors found a decline in genetic diversity towards high latitudes and a significant IBD pattern that together with ENM predictions suggest that E. chiloensis var. chiloensis experienced range contraction northwards during wet–cold conditions of the LGM, followed by expansion during aridification of the mid-Holocene. In addition to IBD, they detected the presence of a strong barrier to gene flow at 32°30′S, which according to coalescence analysis occurred 44 kyr BP. The resulting genetic clusters differed in realized climatic niche, particularly in the variables related to precipitation.
Their results suggest that the cactus E. chiloensis var. chiloensis experienced range contraction and fragmentation during the wet–cold conditions of the LGM, which may have facilitated ecological differentiation between northern and southern populations, promoting incipient speciation.