US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published by Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 50 (2009)


The Anaxyrus boreas species group currently comprises four species in western North America including the broadly distributed A. boreas, and three localized species, Anaxyrus nelsoni, Anaxyrus exsul and Anaxyrus canorus. Phylogenetic analyses of the mtDNA 12S rDNA, cytochrome oxidase I, control region, and restriction sites data, identified three major haplotype clades. The Northwest clade (NW) includes both subspecies of A. boreas and divergent minor clades in the middle Rocky Mountains, coastal, and central regions of the west and Pacific Northwest. The Southwest (SW) clade includes A. exsul, A. nelsoni, and minor clades in southern California. Anaxyrus canorus, previously identified as paraphyletic, has populations in both the NW and SW major clades. The Eastern major clade (E) includes three divergent lineages from southern Utah, the southern Rocky Mountains, and north of the Great Basin at the border of Utah and Nevada. These results identify new genetic variation in the eastern portion of the toad’s range and are consistent with previous regional studies from the west coast. Low levels of control region sequence divergence between major clades (2.2–4.7% uncorrected pair-wise distances) are consistent with Pleistocene divergence and suggest that the phylogeographic history of the group was heavily influenced by dynamic Pleistocene glacial and climatic changes, and especially pluvial changes, in western North America. Results reported here may impact conservation plans in that the current taxonomy does not reflect the diversity in the group.