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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e25628. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025628. Epub 2011 Oct 18.

Comparative phylogeography of a coevolved community: concerted population expansions in Joshua trees and four yucca moths.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, United States of America.


Comparative phylogeographic studies have had mixed success in identifying common phylogeographic patterns among co-distributed organisms. Whereas some have found broadly similar patterns across a diverse array of taxa, others have found that the histories of different species are more idiosyncratic than congruent. The variation in the results of comparative phylogeographic studies could indicate that the extent to which sympatrically-distributed organisms share common biogeographic histories varies depending on the strength and specificity of ecological interactions between them. To test this hypothesis, we examined demographic and phylogeographic patterns in a highly specialized, coevolved community--Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) and their associated yucca moths. This tightly-integrated, mutually interdependent community is known to have experienced significant range changes at the end of the last glacial period, so there is a strong a priori expectation that these organisms will show common signatures of demographic and distributional changes over time. Using a database of >5000 GPS records for Joshua trees, and multi-locus DNA sequence data from the Joshua tree and four species of yucca moth, we combined paleaodistribution modeling with coalescent-based analyses of demographic and phylgeographic history. We extensively evaluated the power of our methods to infer past population size and distributional changes by evaluating the effect of different inference procedures on our results, comparing our palaeodistribution models to Pleistocene-aged packrat midden records, and simulating DNA sequence data under a variety of alternative demographic histories. Together the results indicate that these organisms have shared a common history of population expansion, and that these expansions were broadly coincident in time. However, contrary to our expectations, none of our analyses indicated significant range or population size reductions at the end of the last glacial period, and the inferred demographic changes substantially predate Holocene climate changes.

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