The grass genus Hordeum (Poaceae, Triticeae), comprising 31 species distributed in temperate and dry regions of the world, was analysed to determine the relative contributions of vicariance and long-distance dispersal to the extant distribution pattern of the genus. Sequences from three nuclear regions (DMC1, EF-G and ITS) were combined and analysed phylogenetically for all diploid (20 species) and two tetraploid Hordeum species and the outgroup Psathyrostachys. Ages of clades within Hordeum were estimated using a penalized likelihood analysis of sequence divergence. The sequence data resulted in an almost fully resolved phylogenetic tree that allowed the reconstruction of intrageneric migration routes. Hordeum evolved c. 12 million years ago in South-west Asia and spread into Europe and Central Asia. The colonization of the New World and South Africa involved at least six intercontinental exchanges during the last 4 million years (twice Eurasia-North America, North America-South America, twice South America-North America and Europe-South Africa). Repeated long-distance dispersal between the northern and southern hemisphere were important colonization mechanisms in Hordeum.
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