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Title: Geography is more important than life history in the recent diversification of the tiger salamander complex

The North American tiger salamander species complex, including its best-known species, the Mexican axolotl, has long been a source of biological fascination. The complex exhibits a wide range of variation in developmental life history strategies, including populations and individuals that undergo metamorphosis; those able to forego metamorphosis and retain a larval, aquatic lifestyle (i.e., paedomorphosis); and those that do both. The evolution of a paedomorphic life history state is thought to lead to increased population genetic differentiation and ultimately reproductive isolation and speciation, but the degree to which it has shaped population- and species-level divergence is poorly understood. Using a large multilocus dataset from hundreds of samples across North America, we identified genetic clusters across the geographic range of the tiger salamander complex. These clusters often contain a mixture of paedomorphic and metamorphic taxa, indicating that geographic isolation has played a larger role in lineage divergence than paedomorphosis in this system. This conclusion is bolstered by geography-informed analyses indicating no effect of life history strategy on population genetic differentiation and by model-based population genetic analyses demonstrating gene flow between adjacent metamorphic and paedomorphic populations. This fine-scale genetic perspective on life history variation establishes a framework for understanding how plasticity, local more » adaptation, and gene flow contribute to lineage divergence. Many members of the tiger salamander complex are endangered, and the Mexican axolotl is an important model system in regenerative and biomedical research. Our results chart a course for more informed use of these taxa in experimental, ecological, and conservation research.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Article No. e2014719118
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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