This study infers a single origin and a once-widespread distribution of the Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum species complex in Taiwan based on chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) variation. In total, 124 individuals from five endemic Rhododendron species were used for amplifications of two chloroplast intergenic spacers: trnL-trnF and atpB-rbcL. The haplotype and nucleotide diversities were much lower for the R. pseudochrysanthum complex, comprised of the species R. pseudochrysanthum, R. morii, Rhododendron rubropunctatum, and Rhododendron hyperythrum, than for Rhododendron formosanum. Two measures of pairwise population differentiation, NST and FST, consistently revealed mostly non-significant levels of genetic divergence between populations of the R. pseudochrysanthum complex. No genetic difference was found among the four species of the R. pseudochrysanthum complex by analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA), which is concordant with the parsimonious topology of cpDNA haplotypes for the complex. Nested clade analysis (NCA) of the cpDNA haplotypes indicated that restricted gene flow with isolation-by-distance characterized the recolonization pattern of the R. pseudochrysanthum complex. In contrast, the NCA analysis indicated a contiguous range expansion for cpDNA haplotypes of R. formosanum. This research suggests a once-widespread distribution of the R. pseudochrysanthum complex probably via north-to-south colonization of mid-elevations during low-temperature periods of the Pleistocene. Population fragmentation followed the warmer climate which began in the Holocene and resulted in the present-day range contraction into high elevations.
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