Given the geographical complexity of the Andes, species distributions hold interesting information regarding the history of isolation and gene flow across geographic barriers and ecological gradients. Moreover, current threats to the region’s enormous plant diversity pose an additional challenge to the understanding of these patterns. We explored the geographic structure of genetic diversity within the Ceroxylon quindiuense species complex (wax palms) at a regional scale, using a model-based approach to disentangle the historical mechanisms by which these species have dispersed over a range encompassing 17° of latitude in the tropical Andes. A total of 10 microsatellite loci were cross-amplified in 8 populations of the 3 species comprising the C. quindiuense complex. Analyses performed include estimates of molecular diversity and genetic structure, testing for genetic bottlenecks and an evaluation of the colonization scenario under approximate Bayesian computation. We showed that there was a geographical diversity gradient reflecting the orogenetic pattern of the northern Andes and its end at the cordilleras facing the Caribbean Sea. A general pattern of diversity suggests that the cordilleras of Colombia have served as historical recipients of gene flow occurring only scantly along the northern Andes. We provided evidence of important isolation between the largest populations of this complex, suggesting that both historical constraints to dispersal but also current anthropogenic effects might explain the high levels of population structuring. We provide a list of advisable measures for conservation stakeholders.

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