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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Caves as microrefugia: Pleistocene phylogeography of the troglophilic North American scorpion Pseudouroctonus reddelli

Robert W Bryson1*, Lorenzo Prendini2, Warren E Savary3 and Peter B Pearman4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology and Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington, Box 351800, Seattle, WA 98195-1800, USA

2 Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, USA

3 Department of Entomology, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA

4 Landscape Dynamics Unit, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zuercherstrasse 111, Birmensdorf CH-8903, Switzerland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-9

Published: 16 January 2014

Abstract

Background

Survival in microrefugia represents an important paradigm in phylogeography for explaining rapid postglacial re-colonization by species in temperate regions. Microrefugia may allow populations to persist in areas where the climatic conditions on the surface have become unfavourable. Caves generally contain stable microclimates and may represent microrefugia for species capable of exploiting both cave and surface habitats (troglophiles). We examine the phylogeography of the troglophilic North American vaejovid scorpion Pseudouroctonus reddelli using 1,993 base pairs of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data generated from 12 populations. We use (i) descriptive measures of genetic diversity and population genetics statistics, (ii) reconstructions of phylogeographical structure, spatial diffusion during diversification, and population sizes through time, and (iii) species distribution modelling to test predictions of the hypothesis that caves serve as microrefugia. We compare phylogeographical patterns in P. reddelli with other troglophilic species across the Edwards Plateau karst region of Texas.

Results

Results revealed high haplotype and nucleotide diversity and substantial phylogeographical structure, probably generated during the Pleistocene. Spatial diffusion occurred along the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau from multiple refugia along the Balcones Escarpment. There was little evidence for population and geographical expansion. Species distribution models predicted substantial reductions in suitable epigean habitat for P. reddelli at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).

Conclusions

High genetic diversity, strong phylogeographical structure, diffusion from multiple refugia, and unfavourable climatic conditions at the LGM collectively support the hypothesis that caves served as microrefugia for P. reddelli. Similar patterns of genetic structure in P. reddelli and other troglophilic species across the Edwards Plateau karst region of Texas suggest that caves serving as microrefugia are important for the formation, maintenance, and future survival of troglophilic species in temperate karst regions.

Keywords:
Last Glacial Maximum; Refugia; Species distribution model; Scorpiones; Vaejovidae