Lineage divergence and speciation in the Web-toed Salamanders (Plethodontidae: Hydromantes) of the Sierra Nevada, California



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    • Present address: Departamento de Zoología, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, AP 70-153, Ciudad Universitaria, CP 04510 Mexico DF, Mexico.

Sean M. Rovito, Fax: (+52) 55 5550 0164; E-mail:


Peripatric speciation and the importance of founder effects have long been controversial, and multilocus sequence data and coalescent methods now allow hypotheses of peripatric speciation to be tested in a rigorous manner. Using a multilocus phylogeographical data set for two species of salamanders (genus Hydromantes) from the Sierra Nevada of California, hypotheses of recent divergence by peripatric speciation and older, allopatric divergence were tested. Phylogeographical analysis revealed two divergent lineages within Hydromantes platycephalus, which were estimated to have diverged in the Pliocene. By contrast, a low-elevation species, Hydromantes brunus, diverged from within the northern lineage of H. platycephalus much more recently (mid-Pleistocene), during a time of major climatic change in the Sierra Nevada. Multilocus species tree estimation and coalescent estimates of divergence time, migration rate, and growth rate reject a scenario of ancient speciation of H. brunus with subsequent gene flow and introgression from H. platycephalus, instead supporting a more recent divergence with population expansion. Although the small, peripheral distribution of H. brunus suggests the possibility of peripatric speciation, the estimated founding population size of the species was too large to have allowed founder effects to be important in its divergence. These results provide evidence for both recent speciation, most likely tied to the climatic changes of the Pleistocene, and older lineage divergence, possibly due to geological events, and add to evidence that Pleistocene glacial cycles were an important driver of diversification in the Sierra Nevada.