Genetic data reveal fine-scale ecological segregation between larval plethodontid salamanders in replicate contact zones

Todd W. Pierson, Kennesaw State University
Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Carlos D. Camp, Piedmont College


Contact zones present unique opportunities to investigate ecological divergence, reproductive barriers, and gene flow between species. The two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata) species complex is a group of semiaquatic plethodontid salamanders with a reticulate evolutionary history that reflects the reorganization of river drainage basins. Although evidence for widespread, ancient introgression suggests an absence of reproductive isolating mechanisms in the early evolutionary history of the group, modern contact zones reveal a broader diversity of outcomes—with some putative species pairs occurring in sympatry and others exhibiting narrow hybrid zones. Here, we used RADcap data to investigate gene flow and ecological divergence in replicate contact zones between two species in the Appalachian foothills. Our results demonstrate that gene flow between these species is absent or rare, and larvae show strong, fine-scale ecological segregation among riffles, runs, and pools in streams. These results reinforce the more ambiguous conclusions of previous studies that suggested the evolutionary distinctiveness of these two species and underscore the importance of ecological factors in shaping local distributions.