Aim We used inferences of phylogeographical structure and estimates of divergence times for three species of gophersnakes (Colubridae: Pituophis) distributed across the Mexican Transition Zone (MTZ) to evaluate the postulated association of three Neogene geological events (marine seaway inundation of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, formation of the Transvolcanic Belt across central Mexico, and secondary uplifting of the Sierra Madre Occidental) and of Pleistocene climate change with inter- and intraspecific diversification.
Location Mexico, Guatemala, and the western United States.
Methods We combined range-wide sampling (67 individuals representing three putative species distributed across northern Middle America and western North America) and phylogenetic analyses of 1637 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA to estimate genealogical relationships and divergence times. The hypothesized concordance of inferred gene trees with geological histories was assessed using topology tests.
Results We identified three major lineages of Middle American gophersnakes, and strong phylogeographical structure within each lineage. Gene trees were statistically congruent with hypothesized geological histories for two of the three postulated geological events. Estimated divergence dates and the geographical distribution of genetic variation further support mixed responses to these geological events. Considerable phylogeographical structure appears to have been generated during the Pleistocene.
Main conclusions Phylogenetic and phylogeographical structure in gophersnakes distributed across northern Middle America and western North America highlights the influence of both Neogene vicariance events and Pleistocene climate change in shaping genetic diversity in this region. Despite the presence of two major geographical barriers in southern Mexico, extreme geological and environmental heterogeneity in this area may have differentially structured genetic diversity in highland taxa. To the north, co-distributed taxa may display a more predictable pattern of diversification across the warm desert regions. Future studies should incorporate nuclear data to disentangle inferred lineage boundaries and further elucidate patterns of mitochondrial introgression.