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Phylogeographic concordance in the southeastern United States: the flatwoods salamander, Ambystoma cingulatum, as a test case


Gregory B. Pauly, Present address: Section of Integrative Biology, and Texas Natural Science Center, One University Station #C0930; University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712, USA. Fax: 512-471-3878; E-mail:


Well-supported, congruent phylogeographic and biogeographic patterns permit the development of a priori phylogeographic and distributional predictions. In the southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States, the common discovery of east–west disjunctions (phylogeographic breaks and species’ distributional boundaries) suggests that similar disjunctions should occur in codistributed taxa. Despite the near ubiquity of these disjunctions, the most recent morphological analyses of the flatwoods salamander, Ambystoma cingulatum, indicate that none occur in this low-vagility, Coastal Plain endemic. We conducted molecular and morphological analyses to test whether the flatwoods salamander is an exception to this common biogeographic pattern. Assessing geographic variation in this species is also an important management tool for this threatened, declining amphibian. We demonstrate that flatwoods salamanders, as predicted by comparisons to codistributed taxa, are polytypic with a major disjunction at the Apalachicola River. This drainage is a common site for east–west phylogeographic breaks, probably because repeated marine embayments during the Pliocene and Pleistocene interglacials generated barriers to gene flow. Based on mitochondrial DNA, morphology, and allozymes, we recognize two species of flatwoods salamanders — Ambystoma cingulatum to the east of the Apalachicola drainage and Ambystoma bishopi to the west. Given this increased diversity, the conservation status of these two taxa may warrant re-evaluation. More generally, these results emphasize that in the absence of taxon-specific data, established comparative patterns can provide strong expectations for designing management units for unstudied species of conservation concern.