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Am Nat. 2006 Dec;168(6):730-41. Epub 2006 Oct 31.

Vicariant origin of malagasy reptiles supports late cretaceous antarctic land bridge.

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Department of Integrative Biology, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602, USA.


Since the acceptance of Wegener's theory of plate tectonics in the 1960s, continental drift vicariance has been proposed as an explanation for pan-Gondwanan faunal distributions. Given the recognition of historical connections among continents, it no longer was necessary to invoke hypotheses of dispersal across nearly insurmountable barriers. The application of continental drift vicariance theory to Gondwanan floral and faunal distributions provided reasonable explanations for such unusual distributions as that of the southern beech (Nothofagus) and chameleons. However, recent studies have demonstrated a significant, if not dominant, role for dispersal in the present-day distributions of these and numerous other "Gondwanan" taxa. The evolutionary histories of three Malagasy groups (boid snakes, podocnemid turtles, and iguanid lizards) commonly have been interpreted as reflecting vicariance because of continental drift associated with the breakup of Gondwana. Bayesian analyses of divergence ages suggest that this pattern is the result of vicariance coincident with the isolation of Madagascar in the Late Cretaceous (approximately 80 million years ago). This represents the first temporal evidence linking the vicariant origin of extant Malagasy vertebrates to a single geologic event. Specifically, our data provide strong, independently corroborated evidence for a contiguous Late Cretaceous Gondwana, exclusive of Africa and connected via Antarctica.

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