Pleistocene glaciations have had an important impact on the species distribution and community composition of the North American biota. Species survived these glacial cycles south of the ice sheets and/or in other refugia, such as Beringia. In this study, we assessed, using mitochondrial DNA from three Diptera species, whether flies currently found in Beringian grasslands (1) survived glaciation as disjunct populations in Beringia and in the southern refugium; (2) dispersed northward postglacially from the southern refugium; or (3) arose by a combination of the two. Samples were collected in grasslands in western Canada: Prairies in Alberta and Manitoba; the Peace River region (Alberta); and the southern Yukon Territory. We sequenced two gene regions (658 bp of cytochrome c oxidase subunit I, 510 bp of cytochrome b) from three species of higher Diptera: one with a continuous distribution across grassland regions, and two with disjunct populations between the regions. We used a Bayesian approach to determine population groupings without a priori assumptions and performed analysis of molecular variance (AMOVA) and exact tests of population differentiation (ETPD) to examine their validity. Molecular dating was used to establish divergence times.
Two geographically structured populations were found for all species: a southern Prairie and Peace River population, and a Yukon population. Although AMOVA did not show significant differentiation between populations, ETPD did. Divergence time between Yukon and southern populations predated the Holocene for two species; the species with an ambiguous divergence time had high haplotype diversity, which could suggest survival in a Beringian refugium.
Populations of Diptera in Yukon grasslands could have persisted in steppe habitats in Beringia through Pleistocene glaciations. Current populations in the region appear to be a mix of Beringian relict populations and, to a lesser extent, postglacial dispersal northward from southern prairie grasslands.