Speciation durations and Pleistocene effects on vertebrate phylogeography

John C. Avise, DeEtte Walker, Glenn C. Johns

Abstract

An approach applied previously to avian biotas is extended in this paper to other vertebrate classes to evaluate Pleistocene phylogeographic effects and to estimate temporal spans of the speciation process (speciation durations) from mitochondrial (mt) DNA data on extant taxa. Provisional molecular clocks are used to date population separations and to bracket estimates of speciation durations between minimum and maximum values inferred from genetic distances between, respectively, extant pairs of intraspecific phylogroups and sister species. Comparisons of genetic–distance trends across the vertebrate classes reveal the following: (i) speciation durations normally entail at least two million years on average; (ii) for mammals and birds, Pleistocene conditions played an important role in initiating phylogeographic differentiation among now–extant conspecific populations as well as in further sculpting pre–existing phylogeographic variety into many of today's sister species; and (iii) for herpetofauna and fishes, inferred Pleistocene biogeographic influences on present–day taxa differ depending on alternative but currently plausible mtDNA rate calibrations.