The current geographical distribution of the ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius) was shaped in large part by the glaciation events of the Pleistocene epoch (2.6 Mya–10 Kya). Previous efforts to elucidate the phylogeographical history of the ninespine stickleback in North America have focused on a limited set of morphological traits, some of which are likely subject to widespread convergent evolution, thereby potentially obscuring relationships among populations. In this study, we used genetic information from both mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences and nuclear microsatellite markers to determine the phylogenetic relationships among ninespine stickleback populations. We found that ninespine sticklebacks in North America probably dispersed from at least three glacial refugia—the Mississippi, Bering, and Atlantic refugia—not two as previously thought. However, by applying a molecular clock to our mtDNA data, we found that these three groups diverged long before the most recent glacial period. Our new phylogeny serves as a critical framework for examining the evolution of derived traits in this species, including adaptive phenotypes that evolved multiple times in different lineages. In particular, we inferred that loss of the pelvic (hind fin) skeleton probably evolved independently in populations descended from each of the three putative North American refugia.
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