Aim To test a vicariant speciation hypothesis derived from geological evidence of large-scale changes in drainage patterns in the late Miocene that affected the drainages in the south-eastern Tibetan Plateau.
Location The Tibetan Plateau and adjacent areas.
Methods The cytochrome b DNA sequences of 30 species of the genus Schizothorax from nine different river systems were analysed. These DNA sequences were analysed using parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods. The approximately unbiased and Shimodaira–Hasegawa tests were applied to evaluate the statistical significance of the shortest trees relative to alternative hypotheses. Dates of divergences between lineages were estimated using the nonparametric rate smoothing method, and confidence intervals of dates were obtained by parametric bootstrapping.
Results The phylogenetic relationships recovered from molecular data were inconsistent with traditional taxonomy, but apparently reflected geographical associations with rivers. Within the genus Schizothorax, we observed a divergence between the lineages from the Irrawaddy–Lhuit and Tsangpo–Parlung rivers, and tentatively dated this vicariant event back to the late Miocene (7.3–6.8 Ma). We also observed approximately simultaneous geographical splits within drainages of the south-eastern Tibetan Plateau, the Irrawaddy, the Yangtze and the Mekong–Salween rivers in the late Miocene (7.1–6.2 Ma).
Main conclusions Our molecular evidence tentatively highlights the importance of palaeoriver connections and the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau in understanding the evolution of the genus Schizothorax. Molecular estimates of divergence times allowed us to date these vicariant scenarios back to the late Miocene, which agrees with geological suggestions for the separation of these drainages caused by tectonic uplift in south-eastern Tibet. Our results indicated the substantial role of vicariant-based speciation in shaping the current distribution pattern of the genus Schizothorax.