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Evolution. 2003 Feb;57(2):372-83.

Evidence for multiple Pleistocene refugia in the postglacial expansion of the eastern tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum.

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University of Virginia, Department of Biology, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA.


Pleistocene glaciations were important determinants of historical migration and, hence, current levels of genetic diversity within and among populations. In many cases, these historical migrations led to the existence of disjunct populations of plants and animals. However, the origin and timing of arrival of these disjunct populations is often debated. In the current study, we identify potential refugia and estimate the timing of vicariance events of the eastern tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum, using mitochondrial sequence data. The results suggest a vicariant event 0.75-2 million years ago, separating the tiger salamanders to the east and west of the Apalachicola River Basin. East of the Appalachians, there appear to be multiple independent refugia with little migration among the remaining populations. In particular, populations along the Atlantic Coastal Plain were likely isolated in a coastal plain refugium in the Carolinas. Migrants from this refugium were the likely source of colonists for populations occupying previously glaciated areas along the northeastern Atlantic Coast. A second potential refugium occurs in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia. This refugium contains a disjunct population of the eastern tiger salamander, as well as a community of nearly 70 other disjunct plant and animal species. The tiger salamanders here have been isolated from other populations for 200,000-500,000 years. These results suggest that disjunct mountain populations of Coastal Plain species may have existed in situ throughout the Pleistocene in Appalachian refugia. Therefore, these disjunct populations are not of recent origin, but rather exist as relicts of a warmer, more widespread fauna and flora that is now restricted to the Coastal Plain.

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