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Did geckos ride the Palawan raft to the Philippines?

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Aim  We examine the genetic diversity within the lizard genus Gekko in the Philippine islands to understand the role of geography and geological history in shaping species diversity in this group. We test multiple biogeographical hypotheses of species relationships, including the recently proposed Palawan Ark Hypothesis.

Location  Southeast Asia and the Philippines.

Methods  Samples of all island endemic and widespread Philippine Gekko species were collected and sequenced for one mitochondrial gene (NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2) and one nuclear gene (phosducin). We used maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to derive the phylogeny. Divergence time analyses were used to estimate the time tree of Philippine Gekko in order to test biogeographical predictions of species relationships. The phylogenetic trees from the posterior distribution of the Bayesian analyses were used for testing biogeographical hypotheses. Haplotype networks were created for the widespread species Gekko mindorensis to explore genetic variation within recently divergent clades.

Results  Both maximum likelihood and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses indicated that Philippine Gekko species are a diverse clade with a long history in the archipelago. Ancestral range reconstruction and divergence time analyses suggest a Palawan microcontinental origin for this clade, coinciding with Palawan’s separation from Asia beginning 30 Ma, with subsequent diversification in the oceanic Philippine islands. The widespread species G. mindorensis and G. monarchus diversified in the late Miocene/early Pliocene and are potentially complexes of numerous undescribed species.

Main conclusions  The view of the Philippine islands as a ‘fringing archipelago’ does not explain the pattern of species diversity in the genus Gekko. Philippine Gekko species have diversified within the archipelago over millions of years of isolation, forming a large diverse group of endemic species. Furthermore, the Philippine radiation of gekkonid lizards demonstrates biogeographical patterns most consistent with stochastic colonization followed by in situ diversification. Our results reveal the need to consider deeper time geological processes and their potential role in the evolution of some Philippine terrestrial organisms.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Biodiversity Institute and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA 2: Herpetology Section, Zoology Division, Philippine National Museum, Rizal Park, Burgos St., Manila, Philippines

Publication date: July 1, 2012

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