A congruent molecular signature of vicariance across multiple plant lineages

Michael D. Crisp*, Lyn G. Cook

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    130 Citations (Scopus)


    Explaining disjunct distributions, or why closely related organisms are often separated by apparently severe barriers such as oceans or deserts, is a great challenge for historical biogeography. Competing explanations are long-distance dispersal across a barrier, and vicariance, in which disjunct taxa are descended from an ancestral population that was split by formation of the barrier. Vicariance explanations are testable by their prediction that near-simultaneous speciation should have occurred across multiple lineages of organisms between the disjunct areas because the origin of a barrier would potentially disrupt gene flow within multiple species. To date, there have been few studies providing evidence for multiple synchronous ancient divergences across a barrier whose origin coincides with the timing of the speciation events. Here, we use relaxed molecular-clock dating to investigate the timing of south-western (SW) versus south-eastern (SE) divergences in 23 pairs of plant lineages in southern Australia. Sixteen of the divergences correlate with the origin, 13-14 million years (Myr) ago, of the arid treeless Nullarbor Plain. The Nullarbor Plain currently forms a substantial barrier to SW-SE migration but during the last 45 Myr this region has experienced multiple episodes of marine inundation and subaerial exposure. Thus, there have been multiple events that could have caused either isolation and speciation, or secondary contact, among the taxa of southern Australia. The strong molecular signal of coincident speciation in many diverse lineages during a short period provides the best evidence to date linking synchronous speciation to an ancient vicariance event.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1106-1117
    Number of pages12
    JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2007


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