Pleistocene glacial and interglacial periods have moulded the evolutionary history of European cold-adapted organisms. The role of the different mountain massifs has, however, not been accurately investigated in the case of high-altitude insect species. Here, we focus on three closely related species of non-flying leaf beetles of the genus Oreina (Coleoptera, Chrysomelidae), which are often found in sympatry within the mountain ranges of Europe. After showing that the species concept as currently applied does not match barcoding results, we show, based on more than 700 sequences from one nuclear and three mitochondrial genes, the role of biogeography in shaping the phylogenetic hypothesis. Dating the phylogeny using an insect molecular clock, we show that the earliest lineages diverged more than 1 Mya and that the main shift in diversification rate occurred between 0.36 and 0.18 Mya. By using a probabilistic approach on the parsimony-based dispersal/vicariance framework (MP-DIVA) as well as a direct likelihood method of state change optimization, we show that the Alps acted as a cross-roads with multiple events of dispersal to and reinvasion from neighbouring mountains. However, the relative importance of vicariance vs. dispersal events on the process of rapid diversification remains difficult to evaluate because of a bias towards overestimation of vicariance in the DIVA algorithm. Parallels are drawn with recent studies of cold-adapted species, although our study reveals novel patterns in diversity and genetic links between European mountains, and highlights the importance of neglected regions, such as the Jura and the Balkanic range.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.