A complex history of introgression and vicariance in a threatened montane skink (Pseudemoia cryodroma) across an Australian sky island system

Abstract

Species endemic to sky island systems are isolated to mountain peaks and high elevation plateaux both geographically and ecologically, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Pressures associated with climate change have already been linked to local extinctions of montane species, emphasizing the importance of understanding the genetic diversity and population connectivity within sky islands systems for the conservation management of remaining populations. Our study focuses on the endangered alpine skink Pseudemoia cryodroma, which is endemic to the Victorian Alps in south-eastern Australia, and has a disjunct distribution in montane habitats above 1100 m a.s.l. Using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and microsatellite loci, we investigated species delimitation, genetic connectivity and population genetic structure across the geographic range of this species. We found discordance between genetic markers, indicating historical mtDNA introgression at one of the study sites between P. cryodroma and the closely related, syntopic P. entrecasteauxii. Molecular diversity was positively associated with site elevation and extent of suitable habitat, with inbreeding detected in three of the five populations. These results demonstrate the complex interaction between geography and habitat in shaping the population structure and genetic diversity of P. cryodroma, and highlight the importance of minimising future habitat loss and fragmentation for the long-term persistence of this species.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Heap, V. Antony, L. Beilharz, J. de Jong, R. Groenewegen, K. Howard, M. Londsdale, S. Maldonado, V. Miles, and M. Scroggie for assistance with tissue collection and the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning for in-kind support. We also thank A. Moussalli for useful discussions and C. Moritz, C. Schneider, E. Latch, S. Lougheed and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that improved the quality of this manuscript. Funding was provided by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Foundation (MLH), Museum Victoria 1854 Student Scholarship (MLH), Dame Margaret Blackwood Soroptimist Scholarship (MLH), Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia (MLH) and Monash University Linkage Project Application Support (LPAS) Grant (DGC).

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Haines, M.L., Stuart-Fox, D., Sumner, J. et al. A complex history of introgression and vicariance in a threatened montane skink (Pseudemoia cryodroma) across an Australian sky island system. Conserv Genet 18, 939–950 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-017-0945-7

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Keywords

  • Australian Alps
  • Biogeography
  • Lizard
  • Population genetics
  • Scincidae
  • Threatened species