Phylogeography of the eight-barbel loach Lefua nikkonis (Cypriniformes: Nemacheilidae): how important were straits in northern Japan as biogeographical barriers?


Many straits in the Japanese archipelago have been proposed as biogeographical boundaries, but there is disagreement regarding their importance as historic barriers against dispersal of terrestrial and freshwater taxa. Mitochondrial DNA haplotype and phylogenetic analyses of Lefua nikkonis, a primary freshwater fish inhabiting northern Japan and descendent from Siberia, revealed that the species is genetically structured within its geographic range, but that two major haplotypes are widely distributed across the Ishikari Lowland of Hokkaido Island as well as across the Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu Islands, two well-known biogeographical boundaries of northern Japan. The two major haplotypes were separated from each other by only one mutational step, and many other haplotypes, including those endemic to the region south of these barriers, have diverged from the major haplotypes, suggesting rapid range expansion and local differentiation. Divergence-time estimates, based on vicariance of the Honshu endemic congener L. echigonia via uplift of the Central Highlands, demonstrated that the southward dispersal of L. nikkonis from Hokkaido Island to Honshu Island occurred less than 0.08–0.19 Mya, suggesting that a land bridge emerged at the Tsugaru Strait during the Riss glaciation. Given that other freshwater taxa crossed the strait earlier (during the Middle Pleistocene), it is likely that land bridges in the strait have repeatedly emerged. The fact that L. nikkonis invaded only the northern part of Honshu, and that many other freshwater species also have the limit of their distribution ranges in this area as well, indicates that a faunal transition zone might persist even without the Tsugaru Strait. Thus, straits and lowlands in northern Japan are likely to have been less important as dispersal barriers to freshwater taxa than is currently thought.

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We thank Goto A, Kuwahara T, Miyazaki Y, Matsubara H, Miyazaki J, Koizumi I, Watanabe K, Takehana Y, Mukai T, Sakai T, Mishina T, Nakajima J, Takami Y, and Toda M for their valuable comments on this project. We also thank Yamaha E, Komazawa M, Takahashi H, Ichimura M, Azuma N, Takeda S, Kishida O, Mochida K, Ohbayashi K, Kanno T, Mori T, and Usui T for kindly helping with our field collections or for providing samples. This research was partially supported by a Kuromatsunai Biodiversity Conservation Research Grant to AO and KY.

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Correspondence to Kazunori Yamahira.

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Ooyagi, A., Mokodongan, D.F., Montenegro, J. et al. Phylogeography of the eight-barbel loach Lefua nikkonis (Cypriniformes: Nemacheilidae): how important were straits in northern Japan as biogeographical barriers?. Ichthyol Res 65, 115–126 (2018).

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  • Blakiston Line
  • Dispersal
  • Riss Glacial
  • Land bridge
  • Primary freshwater fish