Paleoclimatic and paleogeological events have been identified as being the two main drivers of genetic structuring in extant organisms. We used a montane stream-dwelling frog, Quasipaa boulengeri, to explore the relative roles played by these drivers on species in southern China, a region needing thorough studies. We detected four major matrilines, and no broadly distributed haplotypes occurred. The complex orogenesis of south-western China drove matrilineal divergence in Q. boulengeri into highly structured geographical units. These matrilines subsequently persisted in situ with stable populations rather than undergoing expansions during glacial cycling. The unification of the upper and middle Yangtze River in the Three Gorges mountain region mediated downstream colonization of this frog. Analyses identified geological events as playing a larger role than climatic fluctuations in driving the population history of Q. boulengeri. Nuclear allele analyses indicated gene flow; this maintained genetic cohesion of the species. South-eastern Sichuan Basin was identified as the area of secondary contact for several matrilines, and this area deserves further study and special protection.
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