Aim To investigate the phylogeography and execute a historical-demographic analysis of the Neotropical rattlesnake, Crotalus durissus, thereby testing the hypothesis of a Pleistocene central Amazon corridor of dry forest or savanna that partitioned the Amazonian rain forest into western and eastern portions.
Location South America.
Methods Using sequences of three mitochondrial genes, we estimated the phylogeography, gene and nucleotide diversity across the South American range of C. durissus. Tree topology tests were used to test alternative biogeographical hypotheses, and tests of population genetic structure and statistical parsimony networks and nested clade phylogeographic analysis (NCPA) were used to infer connectivity and historical population processes on both sides of the Amazon basin.
Results Tree topology tests rejected the hypothesis of a coastal dispersal in favour of a central corridor scenario. Gene diversity was similar on both sides of the Amazon basin. Nucleotide diversity indicated that the populations from north of the Amazon basin represented ancestral populations. Analysis of molecular variance (amova) showed that intra-population molecular variation was greater than between regions. Historical-demographic statistics showed significant population expansion south of the Amazon, and little differentiation in the north, indicating moderate past gene flow between north and south of the Amazon. The parsimony network connected clades from the Roraima and Guyana populations with Mato Grosso, suggesting an Amazonian central corridor, and NCPA supported allopatric fragmentation between north and south of the Amazon.
Main conclusions The distribution of C. durissus on both sides of the Amazon basin is evidence of changes in the distribution of rain forest vegetation during the Pleistocene. Our results suggest a formerly continuous distribution of this rattlesnake along a central Amazonian corridor during the middle Pleistocene. Allopatric fragmentation inferred from NCPA is consistent with vicariance resulting from a subsequent closure of this habitat corridor. This study emphasizes the potential of trans-Amazonian open formation species to inform the debate on the past distribution of rain forests in the Amazon Basin.