Aim Our goal was to reconstruct the phylogenetic history and historical demography of highly divergent populations of the endemic plethodontid salamander Pseudoeurycea leprosa, to elucidate the timing and mechanisms of divergence in the Trans-Volcanic Belt of Mexico.
Location The Trans-Volcanic Belt (TVB) of central Mexico, including the states of Mexico, Morelos, Puebla, Tlaxcala and Veracruz.
Methods We sequenced the cytochrome b mitochondrial DNA gene for 281 individuals from 26 populations and nine mountain ranges in the TVB, and used Bayesian phylogenetic reconstruction and Markov chain Monte Carlo coalescent methods to infer historical demographic parameters and divergences among populations in each mountain system.
Results We found deep genetic divergences between eastern and central TVB mountain systems despite their recent volcanic origin. Populations of P. leprosa show a pattern of refugial populations in the north-eastern and eastern limits of the species’ distribution, and genetic evidence of rapid population expansion in mountain ranges of the central TVB. The oldest divergences among populations date to c. 3.8 Ma, and the most recent divergences in the central TVB are Pleistocene in age (c. 0.7 Ma).
Main conclusions Given the timing and order of population diversification in P. leprosa, we conclude that early isolation in multiple habitat refuges in north-eastern and eastern mountain ranges played an important role in structuring population diversity in the TVB, followed by population expansion and genetic divergence of the central range populations. The dynamic climatic and volcanic changes in this landscape generally coincide with the history of intra-specific diversification in P. leprosa. Climate-driven changes in habitat distribution in an actively changing volcanic landscape have shaped divergences in the TVB and very likely contributed to the high levels of speciation and endemism in this biodiverse region.