Fig. 1: The hornwort (Krascheninnikovia ceratoides) even adorns the entrances of wine cellars in the loess areas of the Weinviertel, although it is only found in two locations in Austria (namely in the Weinviertel). It is a woody, very slow-growing plant that can live for several hundred years. The desert-like dry areas of Middle and Central Asia are the home of this plant, which expanded with the spread of the steppe from Asia to Europe in the later Tertiary and Quaternary. Thus, the evolutionary history of the hornwort allows us to draw conclusions about the evolution of the steppe as a whole. In the project, we used molecular markers to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the hornwort. The plant can tolerate great drought and has a wide amplitude in terms of the temperature in which it can grow. This allowed it to spread in the dry-cold and inhospitable steppes of the ice ages. Photo: Karin Tremetsberger

Fig. 2: Dry aspect of the steppe in Kazakhstan. Photo: Karin Tremetsberger

Fig. 3: Steppe landscape in Kazakhstan. Photo: Karin Tremetsberger

In the FWF project I 3002 (duration: 01.06.2017-31.05.2022), the evolutionary history of four characteristic Euro-Siberian steppe species was studied using fine resolution molecular markers. The four species differ in age, areas of origin, and ecological requirements. These factors can be used to explain the different behavior of the species across cold and warm periods of the Pleistocene. Our genetic case studies, as well as other recently published phylogeographic studies of characteristic steppe species by other research groups, allow us to reevaluate old biogeographic hypotheses about steppe evolution as a whole. Common patterns of species groups with similar ecological requirements, places of origin, and times of origin are revealed.