Drier periods from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene have been hypothesized to have caused the disappearance of various rainforest species over large geographical areas in South America and restricted the extant populations to mesic sites. Subsequent improvement in climatic conditions has been associated with recolonization. Changes in population size associated with these extinction-recolonization events should have affected genetic diversity within species. However, these historical hypotheses and their genetic consequences have rarely been tested in South America. Here, we examine the diversity of the chloroplast and nuclear genomes in a Neotropical rainforest tree species, Vouacapoua americana (Leguminosae, Caesalpinioideae) in French Guiana. The chloroplast diversity was analyzed using a polymerase chain reaction–restriction fragment length polymorphism method (six pairs of primers) in 29 populations distributed over most of French Guiana, and a subset of 17 populations was also analyzed at nine polymorphic microsatellite loci. To determine whether this species has experienced extinction-recolonization, we sampled populations in areas supposedly not or only slightly affected by climatic changes, where the populations would not have experienced frequent extinction, and in areas that appear to have been recently recolonized. In the putatively recolonized areas, we found patches of several thousands of hectares homogeneous for chloroplast variation that can be interpreted as the effect of recolonization processes from several geographical origins. In addition, we observed that, for both chloroplast and nuclear genomes, the populations in newly recolonized areas exhibited a significantly smaller allelic richness than others. Controlling for geographic distance, we also detected a significant correlation between chloroplast and nuclear population differentiation. This result indicates a cytonuclear disequilibrium that can be interpreted as a historical signal of a genetic divergence between fragmented populations. In conclusion, the spatial genetic structure of contemporary V. americana populations shows evidence that this species has experienced large extinction-recolonization events, which were possibly caused by past climatic change.
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Vol. 57 • No. 12