This study uses a combined methodological approach including phylogenetic, phylogeographic, and demographic analyses to understand the evolutionary history of the northern leopard frog, Rana pipiens. We tested hypotheses concerning how (or if) known geological events and key features of the species biology influenced the contemporary geographic and genetic distribution of R. pipiens. We assayed mitochondrial DNA variation from 389 individuals within 35 populations located throughout the species range. Our a priori expectations for patterns and processes influencing the current genetic structure of R. pipiens were supported by the data. However, our analyses revealed specific aspects of R. pipiens evolutionary history that were unexpected. The phylogenetic analysis indicated that R. pipiens is split into populations containing discrete eastern or western haplotypes, with the Mississippi River and Great Lakes region dividing the geographic ranges. Nested clade analysis indicated that the biological process most often invoked to explain the pattern of haplotype position is restricted gene flow with isolation by distance. Demographic analyses showed evidence of both historical bottlenecks and population expansions. Surprisingly, the genetic evidence indicated that the western haplotypes had significantly reduced levels of genetic diversity relative to the eastern haplotypes and that major range expansions occurred in both regions well before the most recent glacial retreat. This study provides a detailed history of how a widespread terrestrial vertebrate responded to episodic Pleistocene glacial events in North America. Moreover, this study illustrates how complementary methods of data analysis can be used to disentangle recent and ancient effects on the genetic structure of a species.
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