The role of past climatic change in shaping the distributions of tropical rain forest vertebrates is central to long-standing hypotheses about the legacy of the Quaternary ice ages. One approach to testing such hypotheses is to use genetic data to infer the demographic history of codistributed species. Population genetic theory that relates the structure of allelic genealogies to historical changes in effective population size can be used to detect a past history of demographic expansion or contraction. The fruit bats Cynopterus sphinx and C. brachyotis (Chiroptera: Pteropodidae) exhibit markedly different distribution patterns across the Indomalayan region and therefore represent an exemplary species pair to use for such tests. The purpose of this study was to test alternative hypotheses about historical patterns of demographic expansion and contraction in C. sphinx and C. brachyotis using a coalescent-based analysis of microsatellite variation. Specifically, we used a hierarchical Bayesian model based on Markov chain Monte Carlo simulations to estimate the posterior distribution of genealogical and demographic parameters. The results revealed strong evidence for population contraction in both species. Evidence for a population contraction in C. brachyotis was expected on the basis of biogeographic considerations. However, similar evidence for population contraction in C. sphinx does not support the hypothesis that this species underwent a pronounced range expansion during the late Quaternary. Genetic evidence for population decline may reflect the consequences of habitat destruction on a more recent time scale.
Corresponding Editor: J. Huelsenbeck