The role of altitude and associated habitat stability in determining patterns of population genetic structure in two species of Atalophlebia (Ephemeroptera: Leptophlebiidae)
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1. Previous studies have identified lowland areas as barriers to gene flow (dispersal) between distinct mountain ranges in montane species of aquatic insects. In this study, we investigated the population genetic structure of two closely related Atalophlebia (mayfly) species inhabiting lowland areas of south-east Queensland, Australia, with the expectation of widespread gene flow throughout the low-altitude environment and associated homogeneous genetic structure. 2. In particular, we asked whether species with lower-altitude distributions demonstrate greater spatial distribution of mtDNA (COI) alleles than the upland species studied previously. This pattern would be expected if good dispersal ability is associated with population persistence in these drought-prone habitats. 3. The two species demonstrated contrasting genetic population structure. Atalophlebia sp. AV13 D revealed strong population structure, with populations on each side of the low-altitude area isolated from each other for a long time (c.350 kya), and the presence of an isolation-by-distance pattern over relatively small geographical distances (<40 km). In contrast, Atalophlebia sp. AV13 A was panmictic at the scale investigated (=160 km), with no history of past population fragmentation. 4. Examination of sample distribution along the altitudinal gradient reveals that Atalophlebia sp. AV13 D may have a more upland distribution (associated with greater habitat stability) than previously supposed, while Atalophlebia sp. AV13 A inhabits more xeric lowland areas, where freshwater habitats are less stable. We consequently hypothesise that these contrasting genetic population structures result from differences in habitat stability along the altitudinal gradient, only species with good dispersal ability being able to persist in unstable habitats. These findings may be applicable to other regions of the globe where habitat instability is associated with altitudinal gradients.
Population, Ecological and Evolutionary Genetics