[en] Cedar ; Cedrus atlantica ; DNA ; glacial refugia ; Northern Africa ; phylogeography ; vegetation model
[en] Aim To investigate the impact of past environmental changes on Cedrus atlantica and its current genetic diversity, and to predict its future distribution. Location Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Methods Eleven fossil pollen records from these three countries were used to locate putative glacial refugia and to reconstruct past climate changes. A mechanistic vegetation distribution model was used to simulate the distribution of C. atlantica in the year 2100. In addition, a genetic survey was carried out on modern Moroccan C. atlantica. Results Pollen records indicate that Cedrus was present during the last glacial period, probably in scattered refugia, in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. In the Tunisian and Algerian sites, cedar expanded during the late glacial and the early Holocene, then disappeared after c. 8000 yr bp. Reconstructed mean annual precipitation and January temperature show that the last glacial period in Morocco was cooler by 10-15 degrees C and drier by c. 300-400 mm year(-1) than the climate today. Modern chloroplast microsatellites of 15 C. atlantica populations in Morocco confirm the presence of multiple refugia and indicate that cedar recolonized the Moroccan mountains fairly recently. Model simulation indicates that by the year 2100 the potential distribution of C. atlantica will be much restricted with a potential survival area located in the High Atlas. Main conclusions Environmental changes in northern Africa since the last glacial period have had an impact on the geographical distribution of C. atlantica and on its modern genetic diversity. It is possible that by the end of this century C. atlantica may be unable to survive in its present-day locations. To preserve the species, we suggest that seedlings from modern C. atlantica populations located in the High Atlas mountains, where a high genetic diversity is found, be transplanted into the western High Atlas.