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Open Access Research article

Gone with the plate: the opening of the Western Mediterranean basin drove the diversification of ground-dweller spiders

Leticia Bidegaray-Batista* and Miquel A Arnedo

Author affiliations

Institut de Recerca de la Biodiversitat & Departament de Biologia Animal, Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 643, 08020, Barcelona, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:317  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-317

Published: 31 October 2011



The major islands of the Western Mediterranean--Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands--are continental terrenes that drifted towards their present day location following a retreat from their original position on the eastern Iberian Peninsula about 30 million years ago. Several studies have taken advantage of this well-dated geological scenario to calibrate molecular rates in species for which distributions seemed to match this tectonic event. Nevertheless, the use of external calibration points has revealed that most of the present-day fauna on these islands post-dated the opening of the western Mediterranean basin. In this study, we use sequence information of the cox1, nad1, 16S, L1, and 12S mitochondrial genes and the 18S, 28S, and h3 nuclear genes, along with relaxed clock models and a combination of biogeographic and fossil external calibration points, to test alternative historical scenarios of the evolutionary history of the ground-dweller spider genus Parachtes (Dysderidae), which is endemic to the region.


We analyse 49 specimens representing populations of most Parachtes species and close relatives. Our results reveal that both the sequence of species formation in Parachtes and the estimated divergence times match the geochronological sequence of separation of the main islands, suggesting that the diversification of the group was driven by Tertiary plate tectonics. In addition, the confirmation that Parachtes diversification matches well-dated geological events provides a model framework to infer substitution rates of molecular markers. Divergence rates estimates ranged from 3.5% My-1 (nad1) to 0.12% My-1 (28S), and the average divergence rate for the mitochondrial genes was 2.25% My-1, very close to the "standard" arthropod mitochondrial rate (2.3% My-1).


Our study provides the first unequivocal evidence of terrestrial endemic fauna of the major western Mediterranean islands, whose origin can be traced back to the Oligocene separation of these islands from the continent. Moreover, our study provides useful information on the divergence rate estimates of the most commonly used genes for phylogenetic inference in non-model arthropods.