We use chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) variation and nested clade phylogeographic analyses to infer the historical processes that have contributed to the high level of morphological and ecological diversification present in a group of herbaceous perennials (the Piriqueta caroliniana complex) in North America and the Bahamas. The presence of morphologically distinct and intercompatible varieties (morphotypes) that can be distinguished based on suites of taxonomic characters (e.g., leaf shape, pubescence type, stature) and contrasting habitat affinities (from marshes to dry pinelands and sand scrub) makes this group particularly appropriate for studies of intraspecific diversification. To examine the distribution of haplotypes among populations, we sampled 467 individuals from 55 locations in Florida, Georgia, and the northern Bahamas (Grand Bahama and Abaco) and screened each individual for cpDNA variation using restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) and heteroduplex analyses. We develop a one-step haplotype phylogeny for this group and use the geographic distributions of haplotypes and clades to test specific phylogeographic hypotheses using the methods developed by Templeton and his colleagues (Templeton 1998). In general, the distribution of haplotypes was strongly influenced by limited dispersal distances, with the more recently derived haplotypes having much lower levels of dispersion and lower frequencies in populations than the ancestral haplotypes. The patterns of clade and haplotype dispersion and displacement and the distribution of morphotypes imply at least three cases of long-distance dispersal and one case of historical fragmentation. The historical patterns inferred for populations of Piriqueta are consistent with known biogeographical events, historical vegetation change, and the concordant patterns of multiple Pleistocene refugia that have been observed for a number of other taxa in southeastern North America.
Corresponding Editor: M. Dudash