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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Toad radiation reveals into-India dispersal as a source of endemism in the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot

Ines Van Bocxlaer1, SD Biju2, Simon P Loader3 and Franky Bossuyt1*

Author Affiliations

1 Amphibian Evolution Lab, Biology Department, Unit of Ecology & Systematics, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium

2 Systematics Lab, Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), School of Environmental Studies, University of Delhi, Delhi, 110 007, India

3 Institute of Biogeography, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 27, 4056 Basel, Switzerland

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:131  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-131

Published: 11 June 2009

Abstract

Background

High taxonomic level endemism in the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot has been typically attributed to the subcontinent's geological history of long-term isolation. Subsequent out of – and into India dispersal of species after accretion to the Eurasian mainland is therefore often seen as a biogeographic factor that 'diluted' the composition of previously isolated Indian biota. However, few molecular studies have focussed on into-India dispersal as a possible source of endemism on the subcontinent. Using c. 6000 base pairs of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, we investigated the evolutionary history and biogeography of true toads (Bufonidae), a group that colonized the Indian Subcontinent after the Indo-Asia collision.

Results

Contrary to previous studies, Old World toads were recovered as a nested clade within New World Bufonidae, indicating a single colonization event. Species currently classified as Ansonia and Pedostibes were both recovered as being non-monophyletic, providing evidence for the independent origin of torrential and arboreal ecomorphs on the Indian subcontinent and in South-East Asia. Our analyses also revealed a previously unrecognized adaptive radiation of toads containing a variety of larval and adult ecomorphs. Molecular dating estimates and biogeographic analyses indicate that the early diversification of this clade happened in the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka during the Late Oligocene to Early Miocene.

Conclusion

Paleoclimate reconstructions have shown that the Early Neogene of India was marked by major environmental changes, with the transition from a zonal- to the current monsoon-dominated climate. After arrival in the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka hotspot, toads diversified in situ, with only one lineage able to successfully disperse out of these mountains. Consequently, higher taxonomic level endemism on the Indian Subcontinent is not only the result of Cretaceous isolation, but also of invasion, isolation and radiation of new elements after accretion to the Eurasian mainland.