Send to

Choose Destination
Am Nat. 2010 Jan;175(1):61-72. doi: 10.1086/648607.

Tracing the origins of iguanid lizards and boine snakes of the pacific.

Author information

Department of Biology, Box 1848, University of Mississippi, University, Mississippi 38677, USA.


In 1947, when Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki hit ground in the Tuamotu archipelago, 102 days and approximately 4,000 km from its point of origin in South America, he inadvertently provided support for one of the most remarkable hypotheses of vertebrate dispersal. Iguanid lizards and boine snakes are ancient Gondwanan lineages whose distribution has been demonstrated to have been influenced by continental drift. Their enigmatic presence on the islands of the Pacific, however, has drawn fantastical conclusions of more than 8,000-km rafting from the Americas. We reexamine the hypothesis of dispersal in light of new molecular data and divergence time estimates. Our results suggest an early Paleogene (50-60 million years) divergence of these groups and the plausibility of an Asiatic or Australian (over land) source. Because the subfossil record indicates that iguanas (but not snakes) were a primary food source of island inhabitants, the absence of these species from islands with a longer history of human presence is unsurprising. Together these findings are taken as evidence of the influence humans have had on these taxa and are put forth as an example of anthropogenic obfuscation of biogeographic history. We suggest that this history is one of terrestrial connections permitting the colonization of the islands of the Pacific.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for University of Chicago Press
Loading ...
Support Center