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Keywords:

  • Alytes cisternasii;
  • Mediterranean refugia;
  • microsatellites;
  • mtDNA;
  • nuclear genealogies;
  • population subdivision

Abstract

Pleistocene glaciations often resulted in differentiation of taxa in southern European peninsulas, producing the high levels of endemism characteristic of these regions (e.g. the Iberian Peninsula). Despite their small ranges, endemic species often exhibit high levels of intraspecific differentiation as a result of a complex evolutionary history dominated by successive cycles of fragmentation, expansion and subsequent admixture of populations. Most evidence so far has come from the study of species with an Atlantic distribution in northwestern Iberia, and taxa restricted to Mediterranean-type habitats remain poorly studied. The Iberian Midwife toad (Alytes cisternasii) is a morphologically conserved species endemic to southwestern and central Iberia and a typical inhabitant of Mediterranean habitats. Applying highly variable genetic markers from both mitochondrial and nuclear genomes to samples collected across the species’ range, we found evidence of high population subdivision within A. cisternasii. Mitochondrial haplotypes and microsatellites show geographically concordant patterns of genetic diversity, suggesting population fragmentation into several refugia during Pleistocene glaciations followed by subsequent events of geographical and demographic expansions with secondary contact. In addition, the absence of variation at the nuclear β-fibint7 and Ppp3caint4 gene fragments suggests that populations of A. cisternasii have been recurrently affected by episodes of extinction and recolonization, and that documented patterns of population subdivision are the outcome of recent and multiple refugia. We discuss the evolutionary history of the species with particular interest in the increasing relevance of Mediterranean refugia for the survival of genetically differentiated populations during the Pleistocene glaciations as revealed by studies in co-distributed taxa.