The molecular phylogeny of the globally distributed golden orb spider genus Nephila (Nephilidae) was reconstructed to infer its speciation history, with a focus on SE Asian/W Pacific species. Five Asian, two Australian, four African, and one American species were included in the phylogenetic analyses. Other species in Nephilidae, Araneidae, and Tetragnathidae were included to assess their relationships with the genus Nephila, and one species from Uloboridae was used as the outgroup. Phylogenetic trees were reconstructed from one nuclear (18S) and two mitochondrial (COI and 16S) markers. Our molecular phylogeny shows that the widely distributed Asian/Australian species, N. pilipes, and an African species, N. constricta, form a clade that is sister to all other Nephila species. Nested in this Nephila clade are one clade with tropical and subtropical/temperate Asian/Australian species, and the other containing African and American species. The estimated divergence times suggest that diversification events within Nephila occurred during mid-Miocene to Pliocene (16 Mya-2 Mya), and these time periods were characterized by cyclic global warming/cooling events. According to Dispersal and Vicariance Analysis (DIVA), the ancestral range of the Asian/Australian clade was tropical Asia, and the ancestral range of the genus Nephila was either tropical Asia or Africa. We conclude that the speciation of the Asian/Australian Nephila species was driven by Neogene global cyclic climate changes. However, further population level studies comparing diversification patterns of sister species are needed to determine the mode of speciation of these species.
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