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Comparative phylogeography of woodland reptiles in California: repeated patterns of cladogenesis and population expansion


Chris R. Feldman, Fax: 435-797-1575; E-mail:


The ultimate goal of comparative phylogeographical analyses is to infer processes of diversification from contemporary geographical patterns of genetic diversity. When such studies are employed across diverse groups in an array of communities, it may be difficult to discover common evolutionary and ecological processes associated with diversification. In order to identify taxa that have responded in a similar fashion to historical events, we conducted comparative phylogeographical analyses on a phylogenetically and ecologically limited set of taxa. Here, we focus on a group of squamate reptiles (snakes and lizards) that share similar ecological requirements and generally occupy the same communities in the western USA. At a gross level, deep genetic division in Contia tenuis, Diadophis punctatus, Elgaria multicarinata, the Charina bottae complex, and Lampropeltis zonata are often concordant in the Transverse Ranges, the Monterey Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, and the southern Sierra Nevada in California. Molecular clock estimates suggest that major phyletic breaks within many of these taxa roughly coincide temporally, and may correspond to important geological events. Furthermore, significant congruence between the phylogeographies of E. multicarinata and L. zonata suggests that the succession of vicariance and dispersal events in these species progressed in concert. Such congruence suggests that E. multicarinata and L. zonata have occupied the same communities through time. However, across our entire multi-taxon data set, the sequence of branching events rarely match between sympatric taxa, indicating the importance of subtle differences in life history features as well as random processes in creating unique genetic patterns. Lastly, coalescent and noncoalescent estimates of population expansion suggest that populations in the more southerly distributed clades of C. tenuis, D. punctatus, E. multicarinata, and L. zonata have been stable, while populations in more northerly clades appear to have recently expanded. This concerted demographic response is consistent with palaeontological data and previous phylogeographical work that suggests that woodland habitat has become more restricted in southern California, but more widespread in the North during Holocene warming. Future phylogeographical work focusing on allied and ecologically associated taxa may add insight into the ecological and evolutionary processes that yield current patterns of genetic diversity.