Historical population contraction and expansion events associated with Pleistocene climate change are important drivers of intraspecific population structure in Australian arid-zone species. We compared phylogeographic patterns among arid-adapted Dasyuridae (Sminthopsis and Planigale) with close phylogenetic relationships and similar ecological roles to investigate the drivers of phylogeographic structuring and the importance of historical refugia. We generated haplotype networks for two mitochondrial (control region and cytochrome b) and one nuclear (omega-globin) gene from samples distributed across each species range. We used ΦST to test for a genetic population structure associated with the four Pilbara subregions, and we used expansion statistics and Bayesian coalescent skyline analysis to test for signals of historical population expansion and the timing of such events. Significant population structure associated with the Pilbara and subregions was detected in the mitochondrial data for most species, but not with the nuclear data. Evidence of population expansion was detected for all species, and it likely began during the mid-late Pleistocene. The timing of population expansion suggests that these species responded favorably to the increased availability of arid habitats during the mid-late Pleistocene, which is when previously patchy habitats became more widespread. We interpret our results to indicate that the Pilbara region could have acted as a refugium for small dasyurids.
- Population expansion