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Genetic footprints of late Quaternary climate change in the diversity of Patagonian-Fueguian rodents


E. P. Lessa, E-mail:


Species are impacted by climate change at both ecological and evolutionary time scales. Studies in northern continents have provided abundant evidence of dramatic shifts in distributions of species subsequent to the last glacial maximum (LGM), particularly at high latitudes. However, little is known about the history of southern continents, especially at high latitudes. South America is the only continent, other than Antarctica, that extends beyond 40 °S. Genetic studies of a few Patagonian species have provided seemingly conflicting results, indicating either postglacial colonization from restricted glacial refugia or persistence through glacial cycles and in situ differentiation. Using mitochondrial DNA sequences of 14 species of sigmodontine rodents, a major faunal ensemble of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, we show that at least nine of these species bear genetic footprints of demographic expansion from single restricted sources. However, timing of demographic expansion precedes the LGM in most of these species. Four species are fragmented phylogeographically within the region. Our results indicate that (i) demographic instability in response to historical climate change has been widespread in the Patagonian-Fueguian region, and is generally more pronounced at high latitudes in both southern and northern continents; (ii) colonization from lower latitudes is an important component of current Patagonian-Fueguian diversity; but (iii) in situ differentiation has also contributed to species diversity.

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