Mountain barriers and river conduits: Phylogeographical structure in a large, mobile lizard (Varanidae: Varanus varius) from eastern Australia

Peter J. Smissen, Jane Melville, Joanna Sumner, Tim S. Jessop

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30 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: Across eastern Australia, mountain ranges (the Great Dividing Range) and river catchments (the Murray-Darling Basin) are likely to have shaped the phylogeographical structure of many species. We address how such processes have influenced the phylogeography of the lace monitor, Varanus varius, a large mobile lizard. Location: Eastern and south-eastern Australia. Methods: Phylogeographical hypotheses were tested using up to 90 museum and field-collected samples from across the entire species' range; a 671-bp region of the mtDNA gene ND4 was sequenced and all individuals were genotyped (eight microsatellite loci). Results: Maximum-likelihood analysis of sequence data revealed three geographically separate clades, with divergences estimated to have occurred during the Pleistocene. The south-eastern clade showed an expansion pattern from northern refugia and dispersal appears to have occurred along the Murray-Darling river system. Microsatellite analyses support mtDNA clades but indicate secondary contact in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Main conclusions: Our results indicate that phylogeographical structure and contemporary gene flow in Varanus varius is shaped by dispersal capacity, geographical barriers and the presence of ancient river corridors. Indeed, only the most significant geological (McPherson Range) and habitat barriers (Burdekin Gap) appear to limit gene flow in this species. The expansion of the clade on the western side of the Great Dividing Range suggests that ancient riparian corridors have facilitated extensive gene flow. Our study highlights the importance of understanding a species' ecological dynamics when examining broad-scale evolutionary patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1729-1740
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Eastern Australia
  • Gene flow
  • Great Dividing Range
  • Lace monitor
  • Murray-Darling Basin
  • Phylogeography
  • Population genetics
  • Varanidae

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