There has a been a resurgence of debate on whether the Pleistocene glaciations inhibited speciation. This study tests a model of Pleistocene speciation, estimating the phylogenetic relationships and divergence times of 10 species of montane grasshoppers, genus Melanoplus, using 1300 bp of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase I (COI). Based on average pairwise distances (corrected for multiple substitutions using Kimura's two-parameter model), all species appear to have originated within the Pleistocene. Sequence divergences between species are less than 4%, corresponding to divergence times less than 1.7 million years ago. Branching patterns among the species suggest that speciation was associated with more than one glacial-interglacial cycle. A likelihood-ratio test rejected a model of simultaneous species origins, the predicted branching pattern if species arose from the fragmentation of a widespread ancestor. These grasshoppers live in an area that was previously glaciated and, as inhabitants of the northern Rocky Mountain sky islands, underwent latitudinal and probably altitudinal shifts in distribution in response to climatic fluctuations. Given the repeated distributional shifts and range overlap of the taxa, there most likely has been ample opportunity for population mixing. However, despite periodic glacial cycles, with more than 10 major glaciations over the past million years and climatic fluctuations over as short a time scale as 103 to 104 years, the dynamic history of the Pleistocene did not preclude speciation. Although relationships among some taxa remain unresolved, these grasshopper species, even with their recent origins, exhibit genetic coherence and monophyletic or paraphyletic gene trees. The frequency of glacial cycles suggests that the speciation process must have been extremely rapid. These species of grasshoppers are morphologically very similar, differing primarily in the shape of the male genitalia. These characters are posited to be under sexual selection, may play an important role in reproductive isolation, and are known to diverge rapidly. This suggests the rapidity of evolution of reproductive isolation may determine whether species divergences occurred during the Pleistocene glaciations.
Corresponding Editor: H. A. Orr