The southeastern coastal plain of the United States is a region marked by extraordinary phylogeographic congruence that is frequently attributed to the changing sea levels that occurred during the glacial-interglacial cycles of the Pleistocene epoch. A phylogeographic break corresponding to the Apalachicola River has been suggested for many species studied to date that are endemic to this region. Here, we used this pattern of phylogeographic congruence to develop and test explicit hypotheses about the genetic structure in the ornate chorus frog (Pseudacris ornata). Using 1299 bp of mtDNA sequence and seven nuclear microsatellite markers in 13 natural populations of P. ornata, we found three clades corresponding to geographically distinct regions; one spans the Apalachicola River (Southern Clade), one encompasses Georgia and South Carolina (Central Clade) and a third comprises more northerly individuals (Northern Clade). However, it does not appear that typical phylogeographic barriers demarcate these clades. Instead, isolation by distance across the range of the entire species explained the pattern of genetic variation that we observed. We propose that P. ornata was historically widespread in the southeastern United States, and that a balance between genetic drift and migration was the root of the genetic divergence among populations. Additionally, we investigated fine-scale patterns of genetic structure and found the spatial scale at which there was significant genetic structure varied among the regions studied. Furthermore, we discuss our results in light of other phylogeographic studies of southeastern coastal plain organisms and in relation to amphibian conservation and management.
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