• Australia;
  • phylogeography;
  • pleistocene;
  • rainforest;
  • speciation

We examine the effects of historical climate change on vertebrate differentiation in tropical rainforest by comparing phylogeographic patterns in six species of widespread rainforest-restricted herpetofauna from throughout the Wet Tropics of Australia. Qualitative and quantitative comparisons of phylogeographic structure reveal strikingly similar patterns of pre-Pleistocene vicariant population differentiation on either side of a previously identified biogeographic break (variously referred to as the Black Mountain Barrier or Corridor; BMC). While divergence across the BMC antedates the Pleistocene, the impact of Quaternary climate change is apparent in populations on either side of the BMC. Consistent with palaeoclimatological reconstructions for the region, the distribution and degree of mtDNA diversity suggests that populations were fragmented and reduced to multiple refugia during Pleistocene glacial periods, with expansion following Holocene rainforest recovery. This pattern is repeated on both sides of the BMC, but substantial differences in the amount and distribution of mtDNA diversity within species indicate the importance of species-specific ecological characteristics. The historical processes of extinction and (re)colonization revealed by the comparative phylogeographic analysis of mtDNA sequences substantiate earlier suggestions that current regional patterns of species distribution and diversity in the Wet Tropics are largely determined by local extinctions and subsequent recolonization driven by Quaternary climate changes.