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Keywords:

  • glacial cycles;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • mountain building;
  • Pleistocene;
  • Pliocene;
  • transposable element

Abstract

New Zealand has experienced a complex climatic and geological history since the Pliocene. Thus, identifying the processes most important in having driven the evolution of New Zealand's biota has proven difficult. Here we examine the phylogeography of the New Zealand common skink (Oligosoma nigriplantare polychroma) which is distributed throughout much of New Zealand and crosses many putative biogeographical boundaries. Using mitochondrial DNA sequence data, we revealed five geographically distinct lineages that are highly differentiated (pairwise ΦST 0.54–0.80). The phylogeographical pattern and inferred age of the lineages suggests Pliocene mountain building along active fault lines promoted their divergence 3.98–5.45 million years ago. A short interspersed nuclear element (SINE) polymorphism in the myosin gene intron (MYH-2) confirmed a pattern of restricted gene flow between lineages on either side of the mountain ranges associated with the Alpine Fault that runs southwest to northeast across the South Island of New Zealand. An analysis of molecular variance confirmed that ~40% of the genetic differentiation in O. n. polychroma is distributed across this major fault line. The straits between the main islands of New Zealand accounted for much less of the variation found within O. n. polychroma, most likely due to the repeated existence of landbridges between islands during periods of the Pleistocene that allowed migration. Overall, our findings reveal the relative roles of different climatic and geological processes, and in particular, demonstrate the importance of the Alpine Fault in the evolution of New Zealand's biota.