• historical demography ;
  • hybrid speciation ;
  • Patagonia ;
  • Pleistocene

The allotetraploid Tympanoctomys barrerae has a broad, patchy distribution around salt flats in western Argentina. To gain insights into its phylogenetic relationships, phylogeographical patterns, and origin, seven populations of T. barrerae and its allied taxa were studied through a 1075-bp fragment of cytochrome b and cytochrome oxidase I. Matrilineal phylogenetic relationships were explored with maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches. The intraspecific genealogy was inferred by median-joining networks. The populational structure was assessed by molecular variance, and the demographic history through coalescence. The tree topology depicted sister-group relationship between Octomys mimax to the pair T. barrerae–Pipanacoctomys aureus, suggesting P. aureus belongs to the maternal lineage that gave rise to T. barrerae. High degrees of intrapopulational variation and the several instances of interpopulational polyphyly suggest range shifts and secondary contact. Consistent with the phylogenetic results, the network analysis revealed two haplotypic lineages depicting genetic admixtures unrelated to the current geographical distribution, and a deep split with the southernmost lineage of Chubut. The origin of T barrerae was estimated at approximately 2.52 Mya, whereas the divergence estimate for Chubut coincides with the end of largest Patagonian glaciation, at 1.47 Mya. Apparently, this population remained isolated during a northward Pleistocenic range shift. The historical demographic patterns of the lineages of T. barrerae fit with a contraction–expansion model coincident with Quaternary cycling events. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 108, 453–469.