• climate change;
  • demographic expansion;
  • forest;
  • Old World tropics;
  • speciation;
  • Sunda shelf


The extent to which response to environmental change is mediated by species-specific ecology is an important aspect of the population histories of tropical taxa. During the Pleistocene glacial cycles and associated sea level fluctuations, the Sunda region in Southeast Asia experienced concurrent changes in landmass area and the ratio of forest to open habitat, providing an ideal setting to test the expectation that habitat associations played an important role in determining species’ response to the opportunity for geographic expansion. We used mitochondrial control region sequences and six microsatellite loci to compare the phylogeographic structure and demographic histories of four broadly sympatric species of Old World fruit bats in the genus, Cynopterus. Two forest-associated species and two open-habitat generalists were sampled along a latitudinal transect in Singapore, peninsular Malaysia, and southern Thailand. Contrary to expectations based on habitat associations, the geographic scale of population structure was not concordant across ecologically similar species. We found evidence for long and relatively stable demographic history in one forest and one open-habitat species, and inferred non-coincident demographic expansions in the second forest and open-habitat species. Thus, while these results indicate that Pleistocene climate change did not have a single effect on population structure across species, a correlation between habitat association and response to environmental change was supported in only two of four species. We conclude that interactions between multiple factors, including historical and contemporary environmental change, species-specific ecology and interspecific interactions, have shaped the recent evolutionary histories of Cynopterus fruit bats in Southeast Asia.