Molecular phylogenetic evidence for ancient divergence of lizard taxa on either side of Wallace's Line

James A. Schulte, Jane Melville, Allan Larson

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80 Citations (Scopus)


Wallace's Line, separating the terrestrial faunas of South East Asia from the Australia-New Guinea region, is the most prominent and well-studied biogeographical division in the world. Phylogenetically distinct subgroups of major animal and plant groups have been documented on either side of Wallace's Line since it was first proposed in 1859. Despite its importance, the temporal history, of fragmentation across this line is virtually unknown and the geological foundation has rarely been discussed. Using molecular phylogenetics and dating techniques, we show that the split between taxa in the South East Asian and the Australian-New Guinean geological regions occurred during the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous in two independent lizard clades. This estimate is compatible with the hypothesis of rifting Gondwanan continental fragments during the Mesozoic and strongly rejects the hypothetical origin of various members of the Australian-New Guinean herpetofauna as relatively recent invasions from South East Asia. Our finding suggests an ancient fragmentation of lizard taxa on either side of Wallace's Line and provides further evidence that the composition of modern global communities has been significantly affected by rifting and accretion of Gondwanan continental plates during the Middle to Late Mesozoic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-603
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1515
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Agamidae
  • Biogeography
  • Gondwana
  • Molecular clock
  • Varanidae
  • Wallace's Line

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