Polyploidy and apomixis are important factors influencing plant distributions often resulting in range shifts, expansions and geographical parthenogenesis. We used the Ranunculus auricomus complex as a model to asses if the past and present distribution and climatic preferences were determined by these phenomena.
Ecological differentiation among diploids and polyploids was tested by comparing the sets of climatic variables and distribution modelling using 191 novel ploidy estimations and 561 literature data. Significant differences in relative genome size on the diploid level were recorded between the “ auricomus” and “ cassubicus” groups and several new diploid occurrences were found in Slovenia and Hungary. The current distribution of diploids overlapped with the modelled paleodistribution (22 kyr BP), except Austria and the Carpathians, which are proposed to be colonized later on from refugia in the Balkans. Current and historical presence of diploids from the R. auricomus complex is suggested also for the foothills of the Caucasus. Based on comparisons of the climatic preferences polyploids from the R. auricomus complex occupy slightly drier and colder habitats than the diploids.
The change of reproductive mode and selection due to competition with the diploid ancestors may have facilitated the establishment of polyploids within the R. auricomus complex in environments slightly cooler and drier, than those tolerated by diploid ancestors. Much broader distribution of polyploid apomicts may have been achieved due to faster colonization mediated by uniparental reproductive system.