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Keywords:

  • Diversification hypotheses;
  • Guiana Shield;
  • Hylidae;
  • Lost World;
  • sky islands;
  • tepuis

The flattop mountains (tepuis) of South America are ancient remnants of the Precambrian Guiana Shield plateau. The tepui summits, isolated by their surrounding cliffs that can be up to 1000 m tall, are thought of as “islands in the sky,” harboring relict flora and fauna that underwent vicariant speciation due to plateau fragmentation. High endemicity atop tepui summits support the idea of an ancient “Lost World” biota. However, recent work suggests that dispersal between lowlands and summits has occurred long after tepui formation indicating that tepui summits may not be as isolated from the lowlands as researchers have long suggested. Neither view of the origin of the tepui biota (i.e., ancient vicariance vs. recent dispersal) has strong empirical support owing to a lack of studies. We test diversification hypotheses of the Guiana Shield highlands by estimating divergence times of an endemic group of treefrogs, Tepuihyla. We find that diversification of this group does not support an ancient origin for this taxon; instead, divergence times among the highland species are 2–5 Ma. Our data indicate that most highland speciation occurred during the Pliocene. Thus, this unparalleled landscape known as “The Lost World” is inhabited, in part, not by Early Tertiary relicts but neoendemics.