Mite dispersal among the Southern Ocean Islands and Antarctica before the last glacial maximum.
It has long been maintained that the majority of terrestrial Antarctic species are relatively recent, post last glacial maximum, arrivals with perhaps a few microbial or protozoan taxa being substantially older. Recent studies have questioned this 'recolonization hypothesis', though the range of taxa examined has been limited. Here, we present the first large-scale study for mites, one of two dominant terrestrial arthropod groups in the region. Specifically, we provide a broad-scale molecular phylogeny of a biologically significant group of ameronothroid mites from across the maritime and sub-Antarctic regions. Applying different dating approaches, we show that divergences among the ameronothroid mite genera Podacarus, Alaskozetes and Halozetes significantly predate the Pleistocene and provide evidence of independent dispersals across the Antarctic Polar Front. Our data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that many taxa have survived glaciation of the Antarctic continent and the sub-Antarctic islands. Moreover, they also provide evidence of a relatively uncommon trend of dispersals from islands to continental mainlands. Within the ameronothroid mites, two distinct clades with specific habitat preferences (marine intertidal versus terrestrial/supralittoral) exist, supporting a model of within-habitat speciation rather than colonization from marine refugia to terrestrial habitats. The present results provide additional impetus for a search for terrestrial refugia in an area previously thought to have lacked ice-free ground during glacial maxima.