Freshwater biogeography and limnological evolution of the Tibetan plateau : Insights from a plateau-wide distributed gastropod taxon (Radix spp.)
Background: The Tibetan Plateau is not only the highest and largest plateau on earth; it is also home to numerous freshwater lakes potentially harbouring endemic faunal elements. As it remains largely unknown whether these lakes have continuously existed during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), questions arise as to whether taxa have been able to ... exist on the plateau since before the latest Pleistocene, from where and how often the plateau was colonized, and by which mechanisms organisms conquered remote high altitude lentic freshwater systems. In this study, species of the plateau-wide distributed freshwater gastropod genus Radix are used to answer these biogeographical questions.Methodology/Principal Findings: Based on a broad spatial sampling of Radix spp. on the Tibetan Plateau, and phylogenetic analyses of mtDNA sequence data, three probably endemic and one widespread major Radix clade could be identified on the plateau. Two of the endemic clades show a remarkably high genetic diversity, indicating a relatively great phylogenetic age. Phylogeographical analyses of individuals belonging to the most widely distributed clade indicate that intra-plateau distribution cannot be explained by drainage-related dispersal alone.Conclusions/Significance: Our study reveals that Radix spp. persisted throughout the LGM on the Tibetan Plateau. Therefore, we assume the continuous existence of suitable water bodies during that time. The extant Radix diversity on the plateau might have been caused by multiple colonization events combined with a relatively long intra-plateau evolution. At least one colonization event has a Palaearctic origin. In contrast to freshwater fishes, passive dispersal, probably by water birds, might be an important mechanism for conquering remote areas on the plateau. Patterns found in Radix spp. are shared with some terrestrial plateau taxa, indicating that Radix may be a suitable model taxon for inferring general patterns of biotic origin, dispersal and survival on the Tibetan Plateau.