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Keywords:

  • northern Australia;
  • phylogeography;
  • brachyotis;
  • rock-wallaby;
  • Plio-Pleistocene;
  • vicariance

Abstract

The monsoon tropics of northern Australia are a globally significant biodiversity hotspot, but its phylogeography is poorly known. A major challenge for this region is to understand the biogeographical processes that have shaped the distribution and diversity of taxa, without detailed knowledge of past climatic and environmental fluctuations. Although molecular data have great potential to address these questions, only a few species have been examined phylogeographically. Here, we use the widely distributed and abundant short-eared rock-wallaby (Petrogale brachyotis; = 101), together with the sympatric monjon (P. burbidgei; = 11) and nabarlek (P. concinna; = 1), to assess historical evolutionary and biogeographical processes in northern Australia. We sequenced ∼1000 bp of mitochondrial DNA (control region, ND2) and ∼3000 bp of nDNA (BRCA1, ω-globin and two anonymous loci) to investigate phylogeographic structuring and delineate the time-scale of diversification within the region. Our results indicate multiple barriers between the Top End (Northern Territory) and Kimberley (Western Australia), which have caused divergence throughout the Plio-Pleistocene. Eight geographically discrete and genetically distinct lineages within the brachyotis group were identified, five of which are separated by major river valleys (Ord, Victoria, Daly), arid lowlands and discontinuous sandstone ranges. It is likely that these barriers have similarly influenced genetic structure in other monsoonal biota.