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Diversification in a biodiversity hot spot: landscape correlates of phylogeographic patterns in the African spotted reed frog


  • Lucinda P. Lawson

    Corresponding author
    1. Zoology Department, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, IL, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA
    • Committee on Evolutionary Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
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Correspondence: Lucinda P. Lawson, Fax: 513 556 5299; E-mail:


The Eastern Afromontane Biodiversity Hotspot is known for microendemism and exceptional population genetic structure. The region's landscape heterogeneity is thought to limit gene flow between fragmented populations and create opportunities for regional adaptation, but the processes involved are poorly understood. Using a combination of phylogeographic analyses and circuit theory, I investigate how characteristics of landscape heterogeneity including regional distributions of slope, rivers and streams, habitat and hydrological basins (drainages) impact genetic distance among populations of the endemic spotted reed frog (Hyperolius substriatus), identifying corridors of connectivity as well as barriers to dispersal. Results show that genetic distance among populations is most strongly correlated to regional and local hydrologic structure and the distribution of suitable habitat corridors, not isolation by distance. Contrary to expectations, phylogeographic structure is not coincident with the two montane systems, but instead corresponds to the split between the region's two major hydrological basins (Zambezi and East Central Coastal). This results in a paraphyletic relationship for the Malawian Highlands populations with respect to the Eastern Arc Mountains and implies that the northern Malawian Highlands are the diversity centre for H. substriatus. Although the Malawian Highlands collectively hold the greatest genetic diversity, individual populations have lower diversity than their Eastern Arc counterparts, with an overall pattern of decreasing population diversity from north to south. Through the study of intraspecific differentiation across a mosaic of ecosystem and geographic heterogeneity, we gain insight into the processes of diversification and a broader understanding of the role of landscape in evolution.