Speciation in the presence of gene flow: population genomics of closely related and diverging Eucalyptus species

Speciation is a complex process that is fundamental to the origins of biological diversity. While there has been considerable progress in our understanding of speciation, there are still many unanswered questions, especially regarding barriers to gene flow in diverging populations. Eucalyptus is an appropriate system for investigating speciation mechanisms since it comprises species that are rapidly evolving across heterogeneous environments. We examined patterns of genetic variation within and among six closely related Eucalyptus species in subgenus Eucalyptus section Eucalyptus in south-eastern Australia (commonly known as the “green ashes”). We used reduced representation genome sequencing to genotype samples from populations across altitudinal and latitudinal gradients. We found one species, Eucalyptus cunninghamii, to be highly genetically differentiated from the others, and a population of mallees from Mount Banks to be genetically distinct and therefore likely to be a new undescribed species. Only modest levels of differentiation were found between all other species in the study. There was population structure within some species (e.g., E. obstans) corresponding to geographical factors, indicating that vicariance may have played a role in the evolution of the group. Overall, we found that lineages within the green ashes are differentiated to varying extents, from strongly diverged to much earlier stages of the speciation continuum. Furthermore, our results suggest the green ashes represent a group where a range of mechanisms (e.g., reticulate evolution and vicariance) have been operating in concert. These findings not only offer insights into recent speciation mechanisms in Eucalyptus, but also other species complexes.