We assembled a molecular phylogeny for the arid-zone members of the Egernia whitii species group to test Pianka's [Zoogeography and speciation of Australian desert lizards: an ecological perspective, Copeia (1972) 127-145] hypothesis that habitat specificity to the three major arid-zone vegetation communities is the primary cause of lizard speciation within the arid interior of Australia. This hypothesis predicts that species should exhibit phylogeographic structuring concordant with the major arid-zone vegetation types. Sequence data were obtained from four of the five arid-zone members of the E. whitii species group, and from across the ranges of the ecologically generalized E. inornata and E. multiscutata and the more specialized E. striata. We targeted a fragment (696 base pair (bp)) of the mitochondrial genome comprising the 3′ half of the ND4 gene. We analysed the data using parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods. Our phylogeny confirms the monophyly of the arid-zone members of the species group, although the phylogenetic relationships among species were not fully resolved. Although our topology does not support the recognition of the existing subspecies within E. multiscutata, there is a substantial phylogeographic break between South Australian/Victorian (Clade 1) and Western Australian (Clade 2) populations. We found considerable phylogeographic structure within E. inornata, with six major clades identified. However, these clades were not concordant with the distribution of habitat types in the arid-zone. Phylogeographic structure was also observed in the more specialized E. striata, although our analysis revealed close phylogenetic affinities between the sympatric species E. striata and E. kintorei. Shimodaira-Hasegawa topology tests were equivocal in regard to whether the phylogeographic structure within E. striata was in accordance with Pianka's predictions. Although our data failed to provide strong support for the suggestion that ecological and habitat factors are responsible for the diversification of arid-zone lizards, most E. inornata and E. striata populations had similar habitats, indicating that adaptation to particular habitats may have some role in the speciation of lizards in the Australian arid-zone.
- Arid Australia