Authors: Mark D B Eldridge, Sally Potter, Christopher N Johnson and Euan G Ritchie
Tropical savannas cover 20–30% of the world’s land surface and exhibit high levels of regional endemism, but the evolutionary histories of their biota remain poorly studied.
The most extensive and unmodified tropical savannas occur in Northern Australia, and recent studies suggest this region supports high levels of previously undetected genetic diversity.
To examine the importance of barriers to gene flow and the environmental history of Northern Australia in influencing patterns of diversity, we investigated the phylogeography of two closely related, large, vagile macropodid marsupials, the antilopine wallaroo (Macropus antilopinus; n=78), and the common wallaroo (Macropus robustus; n=21). Both species are widespread across the tropical savannas of Australia except across the Carpentarian Barrier (CB) where there is a break in the distribution of M. antilopinus.
We determined sequence variation in the hypervariable Domain I of the mitochondrial DNA control region and genotyped individuals at 12 polymorphic microsatellite loci to assess the historical and contemporary influence of the CB on these species. Surprisingly, we detected only limited differentiation between the disjunct Northern Territory and Queensland M. antilopinus populations. In contrast, the continuously distributed M. robustus was highly divergent across the CB.
Although unexpected, these contrasting responses appear related to minor differences in species biology. Our results suggest that vicariance may not explain well the phylogeographic patterns in Australia’s dynamic monsoonal environments. This is because Quaternary envi- ronmental changes in this region have been complex, and diverse individual species’ biologies have resulted in less predictable and idiosyncratic responses.
Eldridge MDB, Potter S, Johnson CN, Ritchie EG (2014) Differing impact of a major biogeographic barrier on genetic structure in two large kangaroos from the monsoon tropics of Northern Australia, Ecology and Evolution PDF DOI