Species with broad distributions frequently divide into multiple genetic forms and may therefore be viewed as “cryptic species”. Here, we used the mitochondrial cytochrome b (Cytb) and 12 nuclear DNA loci to investigate phylogeographic structures of the sharpbelly ( Hemiculter leucisculus) in rivers in southern China and explored how the geological and climatic factors have shaped the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of this species.
Our mitochondrial phylogenetic analysis identified three major lineages (lineages A, B, and C). Lineages B and C showed a relatively narrower geographic distribution, whereas lineage A was widely distributed in numerous drainages. Divergence dates suggested that H. leucisculus populations diverged between 1.61–2.38 Ma. Bayesian species delimitation analysis using 12 nuclear DNA loci indicated the three lineages probably represented three valid taxa. Isolation-with-migration (IM) analysis found substantial gene flow has occurred among the three lineages. Demographic analyses showed that lineages B and C have experienced rapid demographic expansion at 0.03 Ma and 0.08 Ma, respectively.
Hemiculter leucisculus populations in drainages in southern China comprise three mtDNA lineages, and each of which may represent a separate species. Intense uplift of the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau, evolution of Asian monsoons, changes in paleo-drainages, and poor dispersal ability may have driven the divergence of the three putative species. However, gene flow occurs among the three lineages. Climatic fluctuations have a prominent impact on the populations from the lineages B and C, but exerted little influence on the lineage A.