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Inferring Species Trees from Gene Trees in a Radiation of California Trapdoor Spiders (Araneae, Antrodiaetidae, Aliatypus)



The California Floristic Province is a biodiversity hotspot, reflecting a complex geologic history, strong selective gradients, and a heterogeneous landscape. These factors have led to high endemic diversity across many lifeforms within this region, including the richest diversity of mygalomorph spiders (tarantulas, trapdoor spiders, and kin) in North America. The trapdoor spider genus Aliatypus encompasses twelve described species, eleven of which are endemic to California. Several Aliatypus species show disjunct distributional patterns in California (some are found on both sides of the vast Central Valley), and the genus as a whole occupies an impressive variety of habitats.

Methodology/principal findings

We collected specimens from 89 populations representing all described species. DNA sequence data were collected from seven gene regions, including two newly developed for spider systematics. Bayesian inference (in individual gene tree and species tree approaches) recovered a general "3 clade" structure for the genus (A. gulosus, californicus group, erebus group), with three other phylogenetically isolated species differing slightly in position across different phylogenetic analyses. Because of extremely high intraspecific divergences in mitochondrial COI sequences, the relatively slowly evolving 28S rRNA gene was found to be more useful than mitochondrial data for identification of morphologically indistinguishable immatures. For multiple species spanning the Central Valley, explicit hypothesis testing suggests a lack of monophyly for regional populations (e.g., western Coast Range populations). Phylogenetic evidence clearly shows that syntopy is restricted to distant phylogenetic relatives, consistent with ecological niche conservatism.


This study provides fundamental insight into a radiation of trapdoor spiders found in the biodiversity hotspot of California. Species relationships are clarified and undescribed lineages are discovered, with more geographic sampling likely to lead to additional species diversity. These dispersal-limited taxa provide novel insight into the biogeography and Earth history processes of California.

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