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Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution

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The Cerrado is a wide Neotropical savanna with tremendously high endemic diversity. Yet, it is not clear what the prevalent processes leading to such diversification are. We used the Cerrado-endemic lizard Norops meridionalis to investigate the main abiotic factors that promoted genetic divergence, the timings of these divergence events, and how these relate to cryptic diversity in the group. We sequenced mitochondrial and nuclear genes from 21 sites of N. meridionalis to generate species tree, divergence time estimations, and estimate species limits. We also performed population-level analysis and estimated distribution models to test the roles of niche conservatism and divergence in the group diversification. We found that N. meridionalis is composed by at least five cryptic species. Divergence time estimations suggest that the deepest branches split back into the early-mid Miocene, when most of the geophysical activity of the Cerrado took place. The deep divergences found in N. meridionalis suggest that beta anoles invaded South America much earlier than previously thought. Recent published evidence supports this view, indicating that the Panama gap closed as early as 15 mya, allowing for an early invasion of Norops into South America. The spatial pattern of diversification within N. meridionalis follows a northwest–southeast direction, which is consistent across several species of vertebrates endemic to the Cerrado. Also, we found evidence for non-stationary isolation by distance, which occurs when genetic differentiation depends on space. Our preliminary data in two out of five lineages suggest that niche conservatism is an important mechanism that promoted geographic fragmentation in the group.


Accepted version. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Vol. 94, No. A (January 2016) : 279-289. DOI. © 2016 Elsevier. Used with permission.

Tony Gamble was affiliated with University of Minnesota, Minneapolis at the time of publication.

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