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Range expansions in the flightless longhorn cactus beetles, Moneilema gigas and Moneilema armatum, in response to Pleistocene climate changes


Christopher Irwin Smith, *Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844. Fax: 208-885-7905;


Pollen cores and plant and animal fossils suggest that global climate changes at the end of the last glacial period caused range expansions in organisms indigenous to the North American desert regions, but this suggestion has rarely been investigated from a population genetic perspective. In order to investigate the impact of Pleistocene climate changes and glacial/interglacial cycling on the distribution and population structure of animals in North American desert communities, biogeographical patterns in the flightless, warm-desert cactus beetles, Moneilema gigas and Moneilema armatum, were examined using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence data from the cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene. Gene tree relationships between haplotypes were inferred using parsimony, maximum-likelihood, and Bayesian analysis. Nested clade analysis and coalescent modelling using the programs mdiv and fluctuate were used to identify demographically independent populations, and to test the hypothesis that Pleistocene climate changes caused recent range expansions in these species. A sign test was used to evaluate the probability of observing concerted population growth across multiple, independent populations. The phylogeographical and nested clade analyses reveal a history of northward expansion in both of these species, as well as a history of past range fragmentation, followed by expansion from refugia. The coalescent analyses provide highly significant evidence for independent range expansions from multiple refugia, but also identify biogeographical patterns that predate the most recent glacial period. The results indicate that widespread desert environments are more ancient than has been suggested in the past.