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Keywords:

  • aridification;
  • glaciation;
  • Mesobuthus scorpion;
  • Miocene climate changes;
  • out of Central Asia;
  • temperate Asia

Abstract

The aridification from Middle Miocene onwards has transformed the Asian interior into an arid environment, and the Pleistocene glacial–interglacial oscillations exerted further ecological impact. Therefore, both aridification and glaciation would have considerably influenced the evolution of many mid-latitude species in temperate Asia. Here, we tested this perspective by a phylogeographic study of the mesobuthid scorpions across temperate Asia using one mitochondrial and three nuclear genes. Concordant mitochondrial and nuclear gene trees were obtained, which are consistent with species tree inferred using a Bayesian approach. The age of the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all the studied scorpions was estimated to be 12.49 Ma (late Middle Miocene); Mesobuthus eupeus diverged from the clade composing Mesobuthus caucasicus and Mesobuthus martensii in early Late Miocene (10.21 Ma); M. martensii diverged from M. caucasicus at 5.53 Ma in Late Miocene. The estimated MRCA ages of M. martensii and the Chinese lineage of M. eupeus were 2.37 and 0.68 Ma, respectively. Central Asia was identified as the ancestral area for the lineage leading to M. martensii and M. caucasicus and the Chinese lineage of M. eupeus. The ancestral habitat of the genus Mesobuthus is likely to have been characterized by an arid environment; a shift towards more humid habitat occurred in the MRCA of M. martensii and a lineage of M. caucasicus, finally leading to the adaptation of M. martensii to humid environment. Our data strongly support the idea that the stepwise intensified aridifications from Mid-Miocene onwards drove the diversification of mesobuthid scorpions, and suggest that M. martensii and M. eupeus observed today in China originated from an ancestral lineage distributed in Central Asia. Both the colonization and the ensuing evolution of these species in East Asia appear to have been further moulded by Quaternary glaciations.