Geographical variation in genetic structure of an Atlantic Coastal Forest frog reveals regional differences in habitat stability
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Climatic oscillations throughout the Pleistocene combined with geological and topographic complexity resulted in extreme habitat heterogeneity along the Atlantic coast of Brazil. Inferring how these historic landscape patterns have structured the current diversity of the region's biota is important both for our understanding of the factors promoting diversification, as well as the conservation of this biodiversity hotspot. Here we evaluate potential historical scenarios of diversification in the Atlantic Coastal Forest of Brazil by investigating the population genetic structure of a frog endemic to the region. Using mitochondrial and nuclear sequences, we generated a Bayesian population-level phylogeny of the Thoropa miliaris species complex. We found deep genetic divergences among five geographically distinct clades. Southern clades were monophyletic and nested within paraphyletic northern clades. Analyses of historical demographic patterns suggest an overall north to south population expansion, likely associated with regional differences in habitat stability during the Pliocene and early Pleistocene. However, genetic structure among southern populations is less pronounced and likely represents more recent vicariant events resulting from Holocenic sea-level oscillations. Our analyses corroborate that the Atlantic Coastal Forest has been a biogeographically dynamic landscape and suggest that the high diversity of its fauna and flora resulted from a combination of climatic and geologic events from the Pliocene to the present.