Aim We investigated how Pleistocene refugia and recent (c. 12,000 years ago) sea level incursions shaped genetic differentiation in mainland and island populations of the Scinax perpusillus treefrog group.
Location Brazilian Atlantic Forest, São Paulo state, south-eastern Brazil.
Methods Using mitochondrial and microsatellite loci, we examined population structure and genetic diversity in three species from the S. perpusillus group, sampled from three land-bridge islands and five mainland populations, in order to understand the roles of Pleistocene forest fragmentation and sea level incursions on genetic differentiation. We calculated metrics of relatedness and genetic diversity to assess whether island populations exhibit signatures of genetic drift and isolation. Two of the three island populations in this study have previously been described as new species based on a combination of distinct morphological and behavioural characters, thus we used the molecular datasets to determine whether phenotypic change is consistent with genetic differentiation.
Results Our analyses recovered three distinct lineages or demes composed of northern mainland São Paulo populations, southern mainland São Paulo populations, and one divergent island population. The two remaining island populations clustered with samples from adjacent mainland populations. Estimates of allelic richness were significantly lower, and estimates of relatedness were significantly higher, in island populations relative to their mainland counterparts.
Main conclusions Fine-scale genetic structure across mainland populations indicates the possible existence of local refugia within São Paulo state, underscoring the small geographic scale at which populations diverge in this species-rich region of the Atlantic Coastal Forest. Variation in genetic signatures across the three islands indicates that the populations experienced different demographic processes after marine incursions fragmented the distribution of the S. perpusillus group. Genetic signatures of inbreeding and drift in some island populations indicate that small population sizes, coupled with strong ecological selection, may be important evolutionary forces driving speciation on land-bridge islands.