Spatial patterns of genetic variation can help understand how environmental factors either permit or restrict gene flow and create opportunities for regional adaptations. Organisms from harsh environments such as the Brazilian semiarid Caatinga biome may reveal how severe climate conditions may affect patterns of genetic variation. Herein we combine information from mitochondrial DNA with physical and environmental features to study the association between different aspects of the Caatinga landscape and spatial genetic variation in the whiptail lizard Ameivula ocellifera. We investigated which of the climatic, environmental, geographical and/or historical components best predict: (1) the spatial distribution of genetic diversity, and (2) the genetic differentiation among populations. We found that genetic variation in A. ocellifera has been influenced mainly by temperature variability, which modulates connectivity among populations. Past climate conditions were important for shaping current genetic diversity, suggesting a time lag in genetic responses. Population structure in A. ocellifera was best explained by both isolation by distance and isolation by resistance (main rivers). Our findings indicate that both physical and climatic features are important for explaining the observed patterns of genetic variation across the xeric Caatinga biome.
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