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Welcome back New Zealand: regional biogeography and Gondwanan origin of three endemic genera of mite harvestmen (Arachnida, Opiliones, Cyphophthalmi)

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Abstract Aim 

Biogeographers have long been intrigued by New Zealand’s biota due to its unique combination of typical ‘continental’ and ‘island’ characteristics. The New Zealand plateau rifted from the former supercontinent Gondwana c. 80 Ma, and has been isolated from other land masses ever since. Therefore, the flora and fauna of New Zealand include lineages that are Gondwanan in origin, but also include a very large number of endemics. In this study, we analyse the evolutionary relationships of three genera of mite harvestmen (Arachnida, Opiliones, Cyphophthalmi) endemic to New Zealand, both to each other and to their temperate Gondwanan relatives found in Australia, Chile, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Location 

New Zealand (North Island, South Island and Stewart Island). Methods 

A total of 94 specimens of the family Pettalidae in the suborder Cyphophthalmi were studied, representing 31 species and subspecies belonging to three endemic genera from New Zealand (Aoraki, Neopurcellia and Rakaia) plus six other members of the family from Chile, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Australia. The phylogeny of these taxa was constructed using morphological and molecular data from five nuclear and mitochondrial genes (18S rRNA, 28S rRNA, 16S rRNA, cytochrome c oxidase subunit I and histone H3, totalling c. 5 kb), which were analysed using dynamic as well as static homology under a variety of optimality criteria. Results 

The results showed that each of the three New Zealand cyphophthalmid genera is monophyletic, and occupies a distinct geographical region within the archipelago, grossly corresponding to palaeogeographical regions. All three genera of New Zealand mite harvestmen fall within the family Pettalidae with a classic temperate Gondwanan distribution, but they do not render any other genera paraphyletic. Main conclusions 

Our study shows that New Zealand’s three genera of mite harvestmen are unequivocally related to other members of the temperate Gondwanan family Pettalidae. Monophyly of each genus contradicts the idea of recent dispersal to New Zealand. Within New Zealand, striking biogeographical patterns are apparent in this group of short-range endemics, particularly in the South Island. These patterns are interpreted in the light of New Zealand’s turbulent geological history and present-day patterns of forest cover.
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Keywords: Aoraki; Cyphophthalmi; Gondwanan biogeography; Neopurcellia; New Zealand; Opiliones; Pettalidae; Rakaia; phylogeny; systematics; vicariance

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-06-01

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