Comparative phylogeography reveals pre-decline population structure of New Zealand Cyclodina (Reptilia: Scincidae) species


Current address: Herpetology Section, Museum Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia. E-mail:


We examined the comparative phylogeography of all species within the endemic New Zealand skink genus Cyclodina to gain insight into the influence of historical processes on the biogeography of the North Island fauna. Until 1–2 kya, six Cyclodina species occurred sympatrically across the North Island of New Zealand. However, most species have undergone dramatic distributional declines subsequent to the introduction of mammals and the arrival of humans. We compare the phylogeographic patterns evident in Cyclodina species in three biogeographic categories: widespread species (Cyclodina aenea, Cyclodina ornata), North Island disjunct relics (Cyclodina macgregori, Cyclodina whitakeri), and northeastern island relics (Cyclodina alani, Cyclodina oliveri, Cyclodina townsi). Mitochondrial DNA (ND2) sequence data was obtained from across the entire range of each Cyclodina species. We used Neighbour-joining, maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods to examine the phylogeographic patterns present in each species. Phylogeographic patterns varied among species in different biogeographic categories. Substantial phylogeographic structure was evident in the two widespread species (C. aenea, C. ornata), with Pliocene and Pleistocene divergences between clades evident. Divergences among island groups in the three northeastern island relic species (C. alani, C. oliveri, C. townsi) occurred during the late Pliocene–Pleistocene. By contrast, relatively shallow structure, indicative of late Pleistocene divergences, was present in the two North Island disjunct species (C. macgregori, C. whitakeri). The results strongly suggest that the Poor Knights Islands population of C. ornata represents a new species. We suggest that the contrasting phylogeographic patterns exhibited by Cyclodina species in different biogeographic categories might be related to body size, ecology, and habitat preferences. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 95, 388–408.