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Evolutionary footprints of a cold relic in a rapidly warming world

Wolf, Eva; Gaquerel, Emmanuel; Scharmann, Mathias; Yant, Levi; Koch, Marcus A

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Eva Wolf

Emmanuel Gaquerel

Mathias Scharmann

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Professor of Evolutionary Genomics

Marcus A Koch


With accelerating global warming, understanding the evolutionary dynamics of plant adaptation to environmental change is increasingly urgent. Here we reveal the enigmatic history of the genus Cochlearia (Brassicaceae), a Pleistocene relic that originated from a drought-adapted Mediterranean sister genus during the Miocene. Cochlearia rapidly diversified and adapted to circum-Arctic regions and other cold-characterized habitat types during the Pleistocene. This sudden change in ecological preferences was accompanied by a highly complex, reticulate polyploid evolution, which was apparently triggered by the impact of repeated Pleistocene glaciation cycles. Our results illustrate that two early diversified arctic-alpine diploid gene pools contributed differently to the evolution of this young polyploid genus now captured in a cold-adapted niche. Metabolomics revealed central carbon metabolism responses to cold in diverse species and ecotypes, likely due to continuous connections to cold habitats that may have facilitated widespread adaptation to alpine and subalpine habitats, and which we speculate were coopted from existing drought adaptations. Given the growing scientific interest in adaptive evolution of temperature-related traits, our results provide much-needed taxonomic and phylogenomic resolution of a model system as well as first insights into the origins of its adaptation to cold.


Wolf, E., Koch, M. A., Wolf, E. M., Gaquerel, E., Scharmann, M., Yant, L., & Koch, M. A. (2021). Evolutionary footprints of a cold relic in a rapidly warming world. eLife, 10, Article e71572.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 24, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 21, 2021
Publication Date Dec 1, 2021
Deposit Date Jan 14, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 17, 2022
Journal eLife
Electronic ISSN 2050-084X
Publisher eLife Sciences Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Article Number e71572
Keywords General Immunology and Microbiology; General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology; General Medicine; General Neuroscience
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