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Keywords:

  • Dispersal;
  • fossil;
  • Gekkonidae;
  • Gekkota;
  • historical biogeography;
  • phylogenetics;
  • Sphaerodactylidae;
  • vicariance

Abstract

Aim  Geckos (Reptilia: Squamata), due to their great age and global distribution, are excellent candidates to test hypotheses of Gondwanan vicariance against post-Gondwanan dispersal. Our aims are: to generate a phylogeny of the sphaerodactyl geckos and their closest relatives; evaluate previous phylogenetic hypotheses of the sphaerodactyl geckos with regard to the other major gecko lineages; and to use divergence date estimates to inform a biogeographical scenario regarding Gondwanan relationships and assess the roles of vicariance and dispersal in shaping the current distributions of the New World sphaerodactyl geckos and their closest Old World relatives.

Location  Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, Atlantic Ocean.

Methods  We used parsimony and partitioned Bayesian methods to analyse data from five nuclear genes to generate a phylogeny for the New World sphaerodactyl geckos and their close Old World relatives. We used dispersal–vicariance analysis to determine ancestral area relationships among clades, and divergence times were estimated from the phylogeny using nonparametric rate smoothing.

Results  We recovered a monophyletic group containing the New World sphaerodactyl genera, Coleodactylus, Gonatodes, Lepidoblepharis, Pseudogonatodes and Sphaerodactylus, and the Old World Gekkotan genera Aristelliger, Euleptes, Quedenfeldtia, Pristurus, Saurodactylus and Teratoscincus. The dispersal–vicariance analysis indicated that the ancestral area for this clade was North Africa and surrounding regions. The divergence between the New World spaherodactyl geckos and their closest Old World relative was estimated to have occurred c. 96 Myr bp.

Main conclusions  Here we provide the first molecular genetic phylogenetic hypothesis of the New World sphaerodactyl geckos and their closest Old World relatives. A combination of divergence date estimates and dispersal–vicariance analysis informed a biogeographical scenario indicating that the split between the sphaerodactyl geckos and their African relatives coincided with the Africa/South America split and the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. We resurrect the family name Sphaerodactylidae to represent the expanded sphaerodactyl clade.