Evolutionary origins and diversification of dragon lizards in Australia's tropical savannas

J. Melville, E. G. Ritchie, S. N.J. Chapple, R. E. Glor, J. A. Schulte

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51 Citations (Scopus)


Australia's monsoonal tropics are dominated by the largest and least modified savanna woodlands in the world, and they are globally significant for their high biodiversity and regional endemism. Despite this, there have been very few molecular studies of the evolutionary origins and diversification of vertebrates in this region. The semi-arboreal dragon lizards of Lophognathus and Amphibolurus are widely distributed in the savanna and dry sclerophyll woodlands of Australasia, including the monsoon tropics. We sequenced a ∼1400. bp region of mitochondrial DNA and a ∼1400. bp nuclear gene (RAG1) to investigate the phylogenetic relationships and phylogeographic structuring of all seven species of Lophognathus and Amphibolurus. Our analyses show that there is a higher level of species and generic diversity in the monsoon tropics than previously thought, and a full morphological review and taxonomic revision of these genera is required. Relaxed molecular clock analyses indicate that species across both genera originated in the late Miocene and early Pliocene, with significant phylogeographic structure within species. We did not find any evidence that the monsoon tropics species were a monophyletic group that had diversified within the region; instead Amphibolurus and Lophognathus represent at least three independent evolutionary colonizations of the monsoon tropics. It is probable that the origins and phylogeographic patterns of the northern Lophognathus species have evolved under the climatic influence of the Australian monsoon, rather than being either an ancient Gondwanan lineage that pre-dates the monsoon or the result of a more recent dispersal event across Wallace's Line.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-270
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Agamidae
  • Historical biogeography
  • Molecular systematics
  • Monsoon tropics
  • Phylogeography
  • Tropical savannas
  • Vicariance

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