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Locating pleistocene refugia: comparing phylogeographic and ecological niche model predictions.

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Ecological niche models (ENMs) provide a means of characterizing the spatial distribution of suitable conditions for species, and have recently been applied to the challenge of locating potential distributional areas at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) when unfavorable climate conditions led to range contractions and fragmentation. Here, we compare and contrast ENM-based reconstructions of LGM refugial locations with those resulting from the more traditional molecular genetic and phylogeographic predictions. We examined 20 North American terrestrial vertebrate species from different regions and with different range sizes for which refugia have been identified based on phylogeographic analyses, using ENM tools to make parallel predictions. We then assessed the correspondence between the two approaches based on spatial overlap and areal extent of the predicted refugia. In 14 of the 20 species, the predictions from ENM and predictions based on phylogeographic studies were significantly spatially correlated, suggesting that the two approaches to development of refugial maps are converging on a similar result. Our results confirm that ENM scenario exploration can provide a useful complement to molecular studies, offering a less subjective, spatially explicit hypothesis of past geographic patterns of distribution.

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