The Casiquiare River is a unique biogeographic corridor between the Orinoco and Amazonas basins. We investigated the importance of this connection for Neotropical fishes using peacock cichlids (Cichla spp.) as a model system. We tested whether the Casiquiare provides a conduit for gene flow between contemporary populations, and investigated the origin of biogeographic distributions that span the Casiquiare. Using sequences from the mitochondrial control region of three focal species (C. temensis, C. monoculus, and C. orinocensis) whose distributions include the Amazonas, Orinoco, and Casiquiare, we constructed maximum likelihood phylograms of haplotypes and analyzed the populations under an isolation-with-migration coalescent model. Our analyses suggest that populations of all three species have experienced some degree of gene flow via the Casiquiare. We also generated a mitochondrial genealogy of all Cichla species using >2000 bp and performed a dispersal-vicariance analysis (DIVA) to reconstruct the historical biogeography of the genus. This analysis, when combined with the intraspecific results, supports two instances of dispersal from the Amazonas to the Orinoco. Thus, our results support the idea that the Casiquiare connection is important across temporal scales, facilitating both gene flow and the dispersal and range expansion of species.
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