The Pleistocene Epoch has been frequently cited as a period of intense speciation for a significant portion of temperate continental biotas. To critically assess the role of Pleistocene glaciations on the evolution of the freshwater fish clade Micropterus, we use a phylogenetic analysis of complete gene sequences from two mitochondrial genes (cytochrome b and ND2), and a fossil calibration of the molecular clock to estimate ages of speciation events and rates of diversification. The absence of substantial morphological and ecological divergence together with endemism of five of the eight species in North American tributaries of the Gulf of Mexico may be interpreted as the result of a recent Pleistocene origin for these species. Speciation dates in Micropterus range from 1.01 ± 0.32 to 11.17 ± 1.02 million years ago. Only one speciation event is dated to the Pleistocene, and rates of diversification are not significantly variable in Micropterus. The premise that the Pleistocene was an exceptional period of speciation in Micropterus is not supported. Instead, a Gulf Coast allopatric speciation model is proposed, and predicts periods of dynamic speciation driven by sea level fluctuations in the Late Miocene and Pliocene. The Pleistocene, however, was a period of significant intraspecific mitochondrial lineage diversification. The application of the Gulf Coast allopatric speciation model to the remaining aquatic fauna of the Gulf of Mexico coast in North America will rely on robust phylogenetic hypotheses and accurate age estimations of speciation events.
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