Dispersal to or from an African biodiversity hotspot?



    1. Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045, USA
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  • G. J. MEASEY

    1. Applied Biodiversity Research, South African National Biodiversity Institute, P/Bag X7, Claremont 7735, South Africa
    2. Section of Herpetology, National Museums of Kenya, P.O. Box 40658-00100, Nairobi, Kenya
    3. Biodiversity and Conservation Biology Department, University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville, 7535, South Africa
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David C. Blackburn, Fax: (785) 864-4556; E-mail: david.c.blackburn@gmail.com


Biodiversity hotspots are centres of endemism and thus contain many range-restricted species. In addition, within these hotspots occur widespread species that might have originated within a hotspot before dispersing to neighbouring or distant regions. We test this hypothesis with a phylogeographic analysis of a miniature leaf litter frog, Arthroleptis xenodactyloides, that has a large distribution throughout the Eastern Arc biodiversity hotspot and other regions in East Africa. Maximum-likelihood and Bayesian estimates of the mitochondrial gene phylogeny are used as a proxy for understanding the evolutionary history of diversification and the historical relationships between populations. The north–south range of this species extends for approximately 1900 km; our sampling covers approximately 85% of this range. Using phylogenetic comparative methods, we estimate the region of origin and direction of dispersal within A. xenodactyloides. We compare contrasting hypotheses of latitudinal range expansion using bayes factors. The ancestral region of origin of A. xenodactyloides is reconstructed as having occurred within the Eastern Arc before dispersing southwards into the southern Rift Mountains, probably in the Pleistocene. The phylogeographic structure within this leaf litter frog is surprisingly similar to that of forest birds, revealing that similar geographic features might have had a driving role in diversification of these very dissimilar taxa. Latitudinal expansion occurred early in the evolutionary history of A. xenodactyloides, which may indicate that physiological adaptation facilitated its wide geographic distribution.