Origin, diversification, and systematics of the New Zealand skink fauna (Reptilia: Scincidae).Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2009 Aug; 52(2):470-87.MP
The diverse scincid lizard fauna of the largely submerged subcontinent of Zealandia (which incorporates New Zealand, New Caledonia, Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, and the Chatham Islands) forms a monophyletic lineage within the Eugongylus group of skinks. We use 4062 bp of mitochondrial (ND2, ND4, Cytochrome b, 12SrRNA, 16SrRNA) and nuclear (Rag-1) DNA sequence data to recover a molecular phylogeny for the New Zealand skink fauna, and investigate the origin and diversification of skinks in New Zealand. Our phylogeny includes 32 of the 33 extant described New Zealand skink species (Cyclodina and Oligosoma), the Lord Howe Island skink (C. lichenigera), and representatives from several New Caledonian genera. Neighbour-joining, Maximum Parsimony, Maximum Likelihood, and Bayesian phylogenetic analyses are used to demonstrate that the New Zealand skink species form a single monophyletic lineage, with C. lichenigera representing a closely related sister lineage to the New Zealand radiation. Our relaxed molecular clock analyses indicate that skinks colonised New Zealand in the early Miocene (16-22.6 mya), shortly after the 'Oligocene drowning' event (approximately 25 mya). We propose that skinks reached New Zealand from New Caledonia via long-distance overwater dispersal, with C. lichenigera persisting on volcanic islands along the Lord Howe Rise and Norfolk Ridge. Eight major genetic clades are evident within the New Zealand skink fauna, with the divergences among these clades during the early to mid-Miocene resulting in distinct open habitat, forest, and coastal radiations. Subsequent diversification in the late Miocene-Pliocene appears to coincide with tectonic activity along the Alpine Fault and the uplift of the Southern Alps. We were unable to resolve the phylogenetic affinities of O. suteri, New Zealand's only native oviparous skink. We use the phylogeny and topology tests to resolve several taxonomic issues and assess the taxonomic status of several suspected undescribed taxa. We complete a generic revision for the New Zealand skink fauna, placing C. lichenigera and all native New Zealand species into a single genus.