We investigated the phylogeography of the closely related relict leopard frog Rana onca (=Lithobates onca) and lowland leopard frog Rana yavapaiensis (=Lithobates yavapaiensis) – two declining anurans from the warm-desert regions of south-western North America. We used sequence data from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to assess 276 individuals representing 30 sites from across current distributions. Our analysis supports a previously determined phylogenetic break between these taxa, and we found no admixing of R. onca and R. yavapaiensis haplotypes within our extensive sampling of sites. Our phylogeographic assessment, however, further divided R. yavapaiensis into two distinct mtDNA lineages, one representing populations across Arizona and northern Mexico and the other a newly discovered population within the western Grand Canyon, Arizona. Estimates of sequence evolution indicate a possible Early Pleistocene divergence of R. onca and R. yavapaiensis, followed by a Middle Pleistocene separation of the western Grand Canyon population of R. yavapaiensis from the main R. yavapaiensis clade. Phylogeographic and demographic analyses indicate population or range expansion for R. yavapaiensis within its core distribution that appears to predate the latest glacial maximum. Species distribution models under current and latest glacial climatic conditions suggest that R. onca and R. yavapaiensis may not have greatly shifted ranges.
Additional publication details
Phylogeography of declining relict and lowland leopard frogs in the desert Southwest of North America