Sibling species groups are suitable models for the understanding of inter- and intraspecific processes in taxonomy and biogeography. We analysed 262 individuals from the Alps of the Coenonympha arcania/gardetta species complex by allozyme electrophoresis. These taxa showed high variance amongst populations (FST: 0.391) and strong intertaxon genetic differentiation (FCT: 0.376). Although morphologically similar, Coenonympha gardetta and Coenonympha arcania clearly differ in their genetic characteristics; the morphologically intermediate taxa Coenonympha darwiniana darwiniana and Coenonympha darwiniana macromma are genetically well distinguished from each other and the two other taxa. Coenonympha arcania and C. d. macromma most probably share a common ancestor and evolved by cladogenesis, whereas the taxonomic situation of C. d. darwiniana is still unresolved: This taxon might be the result of hybridization between C. arcania and C. gardetta or it might have a common ancestor together with C. gardetta. We suggest species rank for all four taxa. The distribution of genetic diversity of these populations and the differentiation amongst populations suggest rather different biogeographical scenarios: C. arcania most probably is of Mediterranean origin with postglacial range expansion northwards; C. gardetta survived the last ice age in peripheral refugia of the Alps and has spread all over this high mountain system in the postglacial; C. darwiniana and C. macromma survived the Würm in geographic proximity to their actual distribution areas and only have performed moderate uphill translocations during postglacial warming.
© 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 159, 890–904.