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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2007 Dec;45(3):915-26. Epub 2007 Aug 30.

Living with the genetic signature of Miocene induced change: evidence from the phylogeographic structure of the endemic angulate tortoise Chersina angulata.

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  • 1Department of Botany and Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa. srd@sun.ac.za


The phylogeographic structure of the monotypic endemic southern African angulate tortoise Chersina angulata was investigated throughout its distribution with the use of partial sequences from three mtDNA loci (COI, cyt b and ND4). Phylogeographic and phylogenetic structuring obtained for the three mtDNA markers were highly congruent and suggested the presence of two genetically distinct, reciprocally monophyletic evolutionary lineages. Group one contained two subclades with haplotypes from the north-western Cape and south-western Cape, respectively, while haplotypes from the southern Cape comprised group two. The two major clades were separated by nine and eight mutational steps for COI and ND4, respectively. Of the three mtDNA gene regions examined, the ND4 partial sequence contained the most phylogenetic signal. Haplotype diversity was generally low and we recovered 34 haplotypes for the 125 animals sequenced for the ND4 subunit. Nested clade analyses performed on the variable ND4 partial sequences suggested the presence of two major refugial areas for this species. The demographic history of the taxon was characterised by range expansion and prolonged historical fragmentation. Divergence time estimates suggest that the temporal and spatial distribution of the taxon was sculpted by changes in temperature and rainfall patterns since the late Miocene. Corroborative evidence from other reptiles is also suggestive of a late Miocene divergence, indicating that this was a major epoch for cladogenesis in southern Africa. Apart from the genetic differences between the two major clades, we also note morphometric and behavioural differences, alluding to the presence of two putative taxa nested within C. angulata.

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