• Bayesian clock;
  • Cape Floristic Region;
  • climatic oscillations;
  • cryptic species;
  • mtDNA;
  • Peripatopsis;
  • phylogeography;
  • Pliocene;
  • South Africa


Habitat specialists such as soft-bodied invertebrates characterized by low dispersal capability and sensitivity to dehydration can be employed to examine biome histories. In this study, the Cape velvet worm (Peripatopsis capensis) was used to examine the impacts of climatic oscillations on historical Afromontane forest in the Western Cape, South Africa. Divergence time estimates suggest that the P. capensis species complex diverged during the Pliocene epoch. This period was characterized by dramatic climatic and topographical change. Subsequently, forest expansion and contraction cycles led to diversification within P. capensis. Increased levels of genetic differentiation were observed along a west-to-south-easterly trajectory because the south-eastern parts of the Cape Fold Mountain chain harbour larger, more stable fragments of forest patches, have more pronounced habitat heterogeneity and have historically received higher levels of rainfall. These results suggest the presence of three putative species within P. capensis, which are geographically discreet and genetically distinct.