Changes in lake and stream habitats during the growth and retreat of Pleistocene glaciers repeatedly altered the spatial distributions and population sizes of the aquatic fauna of the southern Andes. Here, we use variation in mtDNA control region sequences to infer the temporal dynamics of two species of southern Andean fish during the past few million years. At least five important climate events were associated with major demographic changes: (i) the widespread glaciations of the mid-Pliocene (c. 3.5 Ma); (ii) the largest Patagonian glaciation (1.1 Ma); (iii) the coldest Pleistocene glaciation as indicated by stacked marine δ18O (c. 0.7 Ma); (iv) the last southern Patagonian glaciation to reach the Atlantic coast (180 ka); and (v) the last glacial maximum (LGM, 23–25 000 years ago). The colder-water inhabitant, Galaxias platei, underwent a strong bottleneck during the LGM and its haplotype diversity coalesces c. 0.7 Ma. In contrast, the more warm-adapted and widely distributed Percichthys trucha showed continuous growth through the last two glacial cycles but went through an important bottleneck c. 180 000 years ago, at which time populations east of the Andes may have been eliminated. Haplotype diversity of the most divergent P. trucha populations, found west of the Andes, coalesces c. 3.2 Ma. The demographic timelines obtained for the two species thus illustrate the continent-wide response of aquatic life in Patagonia to climate change during the Pleistocene, but also show how differing ecological traits and distributions led to distinctive responses.
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