Multilocus analysis of phylogeography and population history is a powerful tool for understanding the origin, dispersal, and geographic structure of species over time and space. Using 36 genetic markers (29 newly developed anonymous nuclear loci, six introns and one from mitochondrial DNA, amounting to over 15 kb per individual), we studied population structure and demographic history of the red-backed fairy wren Malurus melanocephalus, a small passerine distributed in the northern and eastern part of Australia across the Carpentarian barrier. Analysis of anonymous loci markers revealed large amounts of genetic diversity (pi = 0.016 +/- 0.01; average number of SNPs per locus = 48; total number of SNPs = 1395), and neither nuclear nor mitochondrial gene trees showed evidence of reciprocal monophyly among Cape York (CY), Eastern Forest (EF), and Top End (TE) populations. Despite traditional taxonomy linking TE and CY populations to the exclusion of EF, we found that the CY population is genetically closer to the EF population, consistent with predicted area cladograms in this region. Multilocus coalescent analysis suggests that the CY population was separated from the other two regions approximately 0.27 million years ago, and that significant gene flow between the ER and the CY populations (similar to 2 migrants per generation) suggests geographic continuity in eastern Australia. By contrast, gene flow between the CY and the TE populations has been dampened by divergence across the Carpentarian barrier.
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