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Abstract Two alternative hypotheses for the origin of butterflies in the Australian Region, that elements dispersed relatively recently from the Oriental Region into Australia (northern dispersal hypothesis) or descended from ancient stocks in Gondwana (southern vicariance hypothesis), were tested using methods of cladistic vicariance biogeography for the Delias group, a diverse and widespread clade in the Indo-Australian Region. A phylogenetic hypothesis of the twenty-four species-groups recognized currently in Delias and its sister genus Leuciacria is inferred from molecular characters generated from the nuclear gene elongation factor-1 alpha (EF-1α) and the mitochondrial genes cytochrome oxidase subunits I and II (COI/COII) and NADH dehydrogenase 5 (ND5). Phylogenetic analyses based on maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference of the combined dataset (3888 bp, 1014 parsimony informative characters) confirmed the monophyly of Delias and recovered eight major lineages within the genus, informally designated the singhapura, belladonna, hyparete, chrysomelaena, eichhorni, cuningputi, belisama and nigrina clades. Species-group relationships within these clades are, in general, concordant with current systematic arrangements based on morphology. The major discrepancies concern the placement of the aganippe, belisama and chrysomelaena groups, as well as several species-groups endemic to mainland New Guinea. Two species (D. harpalyce (Donovan), D. messalina Arora) of uncertain group status are currently misplaced based on strong evidence of paraphyly, and are accordingly transferred to the nigrina and kummeri groups, respectively. Based on this phylogeny, a revised systematic classification is presented at the species-group level. An historical biogeographical analysis of the Delias group revealed that the most parsimonious reconstruction is an origin in the Australian Region, with at least seven dispersal events across Wallacea to the Oriental Region. The eight major clades of Delias appear to have diverged rapidly following complete separation of the Australian plate from Gondwana and its collision with the Asian plate in the late Oligocene. Further diversification and dispersal of Delias in the Miocene–Pliocene are associated with major geological and climatic changes that occurred in Australia–New Guinea during the late Tertiary. The ‘out-of-Australia’ hypothesis for the Delias group supports an origin of the Aporiina in southern Gondwana (southern vicariance hypothesis), which proposes that the ancestor of Delias + Leuciacria differentiated vicariantly on the Australian plate.