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Keywords:

  • Hyla intermedia;
  • Italy;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • multiple refugia;
  • phylogeography;
  • secondary contacts

Abstract

We investigated the geographical patterns of genetic diversity in the Italian treefrog through sequence analysis of a mitochondrial cytochrome b gene fragment. Three main mitochondrial lineages were identified, distributed in northern, central and southern Italy, respectively. Their divergence appears indicative of a split time largely predating Late Pleistocene climatic oscillations, and syntopy between them was only observed in the geographically intermediate populations. The historical demographic reconstructions suggest that in both northern and central Italy, an expansion occurred during the last major glacial phase, when a vast widening of the lowland habitats followed the glaciation-induced fall of the sea level. Instead, in southern Italy an expansion event likely followed the end of the last glaciation, although the inference of expansion appears less reliable for the southern clade than for the others. Within this geographical area, a sharp phylogeographic discontinuity separated peninsular from Sicilian populations, and the overall pattern of diversity suggests that the latter derived from a recent colonization of the island, probably through a Late Pleistocene land bridge. Phylogenetic, phylogeographic and historical demographic analyses thus concur in delineating a scenario of multiple refugia, with four groups of populations which survived the last glacial–interglacial cycles in at least three distinct refugia arranged along peninsular Italy, and have recently come into contact following range expansions. Therefore, these results support the hypothesis that a plethora of microevolutionary processes, rather than the prolonged stability of populations, were mainly responsible for shaping the patterns of diversity within this major biodiversity hotspot.