Orogenesis of topographically diverse montane regions often drives complex evolutionary histories of species. The extensive biodiversity of the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, which gradually decreases eastwardly, facilitates a comparison of historical patterns. We use coalescence methods to compare species of stream salamanders (Batrachuperus) that occur at high and low elevations. Coalescent simulations reveal that closely related species are likely to have been influenced by different drivers of diversification. Species living in the western high-elevation region with its northsouth extending mountains appear to have experienced colonization via dispersal followed by isolation and divergence. In contrast, species on the eastern low-elevation region, which has many discontinuous mountain ranges, appear to have experienced fragmentation, sometimes staged, of wide-ranging ancestral populations. The two groups of species appear to have been affected differently by glaciation. High-elevation species, which are more resistant to cooler temperatures, appear to have experienced population declines as recently as the last glaciation (0.016–0.032 Ma). In contrast, salamanders dwelling in the warmer and wetter habitats at low-elevation environs appear to have been affected less by the relatively recent, milder glaciation, and more so by harsher, extensive glaciations (0.5–0.175 Ma). Thus, elevation, topography and cold tolerance appear to drive evolutionary patterns of diversification and demography even among closely related taxa. The comparison of multiple species in genealogical analyses can lead to an understanding of the evolutionary drivers.