David B. Wake, 1997
Incipient species formation in salamanders of the Ensatina complex.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., Vol.94, pp. 7761-7767.



The Ensatina eschscholtzii complex of plethodontid salamanders, a well known "ring species", is thought to illustrate stages in the speciation process. Early research, based on morphology and coloration, has been extended by the incorporation of studies of protein variation and mitochondrial DNA sequences. The new data show that the complex includes a number of geographically and genetically distinct components that are at or near the species level. The complex is old, and apparently has undergone instances of range contraction, isolation, differentiation, and then expansion and secondary contact. While the hypothesis that speciation is retarded by gene flow around the ring is not supported by molecular data, the general biogeographical hypothesis is supported. There is evidence of a north to south range expansion along two axes, with secondary contact and completion of the ring in Southern California.Current research targets regions once thought to show primary intergradation, but which molecular markers reveal to be zones of secondary contact. Here emphasis is on the subspecies xanthoptica , which is involved in four distinct secondary contacts in central California. There is evidence of renewed genetic interactions upon recontact, with greater genetic differentiation within xanthoptica than between it and some of the interacting populations. The complex presents a full array of intermediate conditions between well marked species and geographically variable populations. Geographically differentiated segments represent a diversity of depths of time of isolation and admixture, reflecting the complicated geomorphological history of California. Ensatina illustrates the continuing difficulty in making taxonomic assignments in complexes studied during species formation.

See early distribution of Ensatina 5,000,000 years ago.

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