Plio-Pleistocene diversification and biogeographic barriers in southern Australia reflected in the phylogeography of a widespread and common lizard species

Mina Hojat Ansari, Steven Cooper, Michael Schwarz, Mehregan Ebrahimi, Gaynor Dolman, Leah Reinberger, Kathleen Saint, Stephan Donnellan, C Michael Bull, Michael Gardner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Palaeoclimatic events and biogeographical processes since the mid-Tertiary have played an important role in shaping the evolution and distribution of Australian fauna. However, their impacts on fauna in southern and arid zone regions of Australia are not well understood. Here we investigate the phylogeography of an Australian scincid lizard, Tiliqua rugosa, across southern Australia using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and 11 nuclear DNA markers (nuDNA), including nine anonymous nuclear loci. Phylogenetic analyses revealed three major mtDNA lineages within T. rugosa, geographically localised north and south of the Murray River in southern Australia, and west of the Nullarbor Plain. Molecular variance and population analyses of both mtDNA and nuDNA haplotypes revealed significant variation among the three populations, although potential introgression of nuDNA markers was also detected for the Northern and Southern population. Coalescent times for major mtDNA lineages coincide with an aridification phase, which commenced after the early Pliocene and increased in intensity during the Late Pliocene-Pleistocene. Species distribution modelling and a phylogeographic diffusion model suggest that the range of T. rugosa may have contracted during the Last Glacial Maximum and the locations of optimal habitat appear to coincide with the geographic origin of several distinct mtDNA lineages. Overall, our analyses suggest that Plio-Pleistocene climatic changes and biogeographic barriers associated with the Nullarbor Plain and Murray River have played a key role in shaping the present-day distribution of genetic diversity in T. rugosa and many additional ground-dwelling animals distributed across southern Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-119
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Early online date13 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Nuclear DNA
  • Anonymous nuclear loci
  • Next generation sequencing
  • Plio-Pleistocene
  • Phylogeography
  • Tiliqua rugosa
  • Scincid lizard
  • Nullarbor
  • Murray River


Dive into the research topics of 'Plio-Pleistocene diversification and biogeographic barriers in southern Australia reflected in the phylogeography of a widespread and common lizard species'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this