Prey, populations, and the pleistocene: evidence for low COI variation in a widespread North American leech.Mitochondrial DNA A DNA Mapp Seq Anal 2019; 30(6):749-763MD
Placobdella rugosa has long presented challenges to leech biologists. Its extreme morphological variability and similarity to some congeneric species has confounded classification for over a century. Recent molecular analyses revealed a surprising lack of genetic variation among morphologically disparate, geographically widespread specimens of P. rugosa. Given the lack of any obvious mechanism by which this species could disperse between distant habitats, it was expected that widespread populations would be genetically isolated from each other. In the present study, we investigate the relationship between geographic distance and genetic diversity in P. rugosa using COI sequences from specimens collected across Canada and the United States. Although we find preliminary evidence for a barrier to gene flow between eastern and western collecting localities, our vastly expanded dataset largely corroborates prior studies, showing minimal phylogeographic signal among the sequences and negligible levels of genetic isolation by distance. A recent range expansion following the last ice age and/or host-mediated dispersal are discussed as potential explanations for this unexpected phylogeographic pattern.