Historical biogeography and evolutionary processes of cave taxa have been widely studied in temperate regions. However, Southeast Asian cave ecosystems remain largely unexplored despite their high scientific interest. Here we studied the phylogeography of Leopoldamys neilli, a cave-dwelling murine rodent living in limestone karsts of Thailand, and compared the molecular signature of mitochondrial and nuclear markers.
We used a large sampling (n = 225) from 28 localities in Thailand and a combination of mitochondrial and nuclear markers with various evolutionary rates (two intronic regions and 12 microsatellites). The evolutionary history of L. neilli and the relative role of vicariance and dispersal were investigated using ancestral range reconstruction analysis and Approximate Bayesian computation (ABC).
Both mitochondrial and nuclear markers support a large-scale population structure of four main groups (west, centre, north and northeast) and a strong finer structure within each of these groups. A deep genealogical divergence among geographically close lineages is observed and denotes a high population fragmentation. Our findings suggest that the current phylogeographic pattern of this species results from the fragmentation of a widespread ancestral population and that vicariance has played a significant role in the evolutionary history of L. neilli. These deep vicariant events that occurred during Plio-Pleistocene are related to the formation of the Central Plain of Thailand. Consequently, the western, central, northern and northeastern groups of populations were historically isolated and should be considered as four distinct Evolutionarily Significant Units (ESUs).
Our study confirms the benefit of using several independent genetic markers to obtain a comprehensive and reliable picture of L. neilli evolutionary history at different levels of resolution. The complex genetic structure of Leopoldamys neilli is supported by congruent mitochondrial and nuclear markers and has been influenced by the geological history of Thailand during Plio-Pleistocene.