Afonso Silva, A.C., Bragg, J.G., Potter, S., Fernandes C., Coelho, M.M. & Moritz, C. (2017) Tropical specialist versus climate generalist: diversification and demographic history of sister species of Carlia skinks from northwestern Australia.Molecular Ecology, 26(15), 4045-4058. DOI:10.1111/mec.14185 (IF2017 6,131; Q1 Ecology)
Species endemic to the tropical regions are expected to be vulnerable to future climate change due in part to their relatively narrow climatic niches. In addition, these species are more likely to have responded strongly to past climatic change, and this can be explored through phylogeographic analyses. To test the hypothesis that tropical specialists are more sensitive to climate change than climate generalists, we generated and analyse sequence data from mtDNA and ~2500 exons to compare scales of historical persistence and population fluctuation in two sister species of Australian rainbow skinks: the tropical specialist Carlia johnstonei and the climate generalist C. triacantha. We expect the tropical specialist species to have deeper and finer-scale phylogeographic structure and stronger demographic fluctuations relative to the closely related climate generalist species, which should have had more stable populations through periods of harsh climate in the late Quaternary. Within C. johnstonei, we find that some populations from the northern Kimberley islands are highly divergent from mainland populations. In C. triacantha, one major clade occurs across the deserts and into the mesic Top End, and another occurs primarily in the Kimberley with scattered records eastwards. Where their ranges overlap in the Kimberley, both mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA suggest stronger phylogeographic structure and range expansion within the tropical specialist, whereas the climate generalist has minimal structuring and no evidence of recent past range expansion. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that tropical specialists are more sensitive to past climatic change.