Evolution and maintenance of divergent lineages in an endangered freshwater fish, Macquaria australasica
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Variable hydrological regimes and habitat availability are factors that affect the distribution of freshwater dependent species and are expected to influence their levels of genetic diversity. Although geologically relatively stable, the south eastern region of Australia has experienced significant changes in hydrological conditions during the Quaternary. This area has also been recently affected by anthropogenic activities, resulting in dramatic population declines of Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica). We conducted a range-wide phylogeographic study of this endangered fish to assess the relationship between landscape and freshwater fish evolution in south eastern Australia and infer levels of genetic diversity and population structure. Surprisingly, we detected high genetic diversity, with 46 mtDNA control region haplotypes found across 37 sampling locations. Some lineages were remarkably divergent; one represents a putative undescribed species that probably went extinct during the period of this study. Our reconstruction of population history using a combination of coalescent and phylogenetic methods indicates that the species originated on the coast, east of the Great Dividing Range (GDR), with subsequent colonisation of the Murray-Darling basin, west of the GDR. Nested clade and IM analyses inferred a series of range expansions and fragmentations across the species range consistent with the history of climatic oscillations in south eastern Australia during the Pleistocene. We conclude that the unexpected high levels of diversity and divergence observed in M. australasica may be due to specific habitat requirements, localised recruitment, and Pleistocene climate fluctuations. Under expectations of a drier climate and increased sea levels due to global warming, populations of this and other freshwater species may be expected to experience increased habitat fragmentation and loss of genetic diversity. Conservation management should focus on habitat protection, the maintenance of genetic diversity and taxonomic review.