Phylogeography, hotspots and conservation priorities: an example from the Top End of Australia

D. F. Rosauer, M. P.K. Blom, G. Bourke, S. Catalano, S. Donnellan, G. Gillespie, E. Mulder, P. M. Oliver, S. Potter, R. C. Pratt, D. L. Rabosky, P. L. Skipwith, C. Moritz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Australia's lizard fauna is among the most diverse in the world. Yet for the continent's vast northern Monsoonal Tropics, recent genomic and morphological evidence indicate that current taxonomy significantly underestimates actual biological diversity. Apparently widespread species typically contain ancient phylogenetic divisions or confounded taxonomic boundaries. Resolving the distributions and relationships across tropical species complexes reveals higher diversity than is recognised taxonomically and may warrant substantial taxonomic changes. For conservation assessments however, we need not wait for revised taxonomy, because phylogenetically informed analyses can use the best available data to inform conservation priorities now, independent of taxonomy. We present results of a large-scale conservation analysis based on comparative phylogeography of ten genera of lizards in two families (Gekkonidae and Scincidae) across the “Top End” of northern Australia, an ecologically and topographically diverse landscape recognised for its high biodiversity and indigenous cultural values. We combine the distributions and phylogeny of evolutionary lineages across multiple species complexes to estimate phylogenetic endemism, a measure of the extent to which evolutionary diversity is geographically concentrated. We demonstrate new methods for conservation assessment to incorporate phylogenetic diversity both within and across species, and for cases where taxonomy is uncertain or incomplete. We identify five hotspots of endemism, some previously known such as the Arnhem Plateau but others that are newly identified such as the Wessel & English Company Islands and the Darwin-Litchfield area. We find that, weighted by range size, the 28% of the region within protected areas holds 44% of the region's sampled phylogenetic diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-93
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for support from the Australian Research Council (Laureate Fellowship and Linkage Project to CM). For provision of tissues and access to sampling sites we thank Traditional Owners of Country that we worked on, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management, and museum curators for access to their invaluable tissue collections. We also thank Rebecca Laver, Sumitha Hunjan, Emily Roycroft, Ana Silva and Jeana Wong who contributed to preparation of the genetic data, and reviewers for insightful suggestions which helped to improve this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Conservation assessment
  • Distribution models
  • Gekkonidae
  • Phylogenetic diversity
  • Phylogenetic endemism
  • Scincidae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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