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Evolution. 2003 Jan;57(1):119-28.

Molecular systematics, phylogeography, and the effects of Pleistocene glaciation in the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) complex.

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  • 1Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA.


The painted turtle, Chrysemys picta, is currently recognized as a continentally distributed polytypic species, ranging across North America from southern Canada to extreme northern Mexico. We analyzed variation in the rapidly evolving mitochondrial control region (CR) in 241 turtles from 117 localities across this range to examine whether the painted turtle represents a continentally distributed species based on molecular analysis. We found strong support for the novel hypothesis that C. p. dorsalis is the sister group to all remaining Chrysemys, with the remaining Chrysemys falling into a single, extremely wide-ranging and genetically undifferentiated species. Given our goal of an evolutionarily accurate taxonomy, we propose that two evolutionary lineages be recognized as species within Chrysemys: C. dorsalis (Agassiz 1857) in the southern Mississippi drainage region, and C. picta (Schneider 1783) from the rest of the range of the genus. Neither molecular nor recent morphological analyses argue for the hybrid origin of C. p. marginata as previously proposed. Within C. picta, we find evidence of at least two independent range expansions into previously glaciated regions of North America, one into New England and the other into the upper Midwest. We further find evidence of a massive extinction/recolonization event across the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain region encompassing over half the continental United States. The timing and extent of this colonization is consistent with a recently proposed regional aridification as the Laurentide ice sheets receded approximately 14,000 years ago, and we tentatively propose this paleoclimatological event as a major factor shaping genetic variation in Chrysemys.

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