Lineage diversity within a widespread endemic Australian skink to better inform conservation in response to regional-scale disturbance

Duminda S.B. Dissanayake, Clare E. Holleley, Joanna Sumner, Jane Melville, Arthur Georges

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Much attention is paid in conservation planning to the concept of a species, to ensure comparability across studies and regions when classifying taxa against criteria of endangerment and setting priorities for action. However, various jurisdictions now allow taxonomic ranks below the level of species and nontaxonomic intraspecific divisions to be factored into conservation planning—subspecies, key populations, evolutionarily significant units, or designatable units. Understanding patterns of genetic diversity and its distribution across the landscape is a key component in the identification of species boundaries and determination of substantial geographic structure within species. A total of 12,532 reliable polymorphic SNP loci were generated from 63 populations (286 individuals) covering the distribution of the Australian eastern three-lined skink, Bassiana duperreyi, to assess genetic population structure in the form of diagnosable lineages and their distribution across the landscape, with particular reference to the recent catastrophic bushfires of eastern Australia. Five well-supported diagnosable operational taxonomic units (OTUs) existed within B. duperreyi. Low levels of divergence of B. duperreyi between mainland Australia and Tasmania (no fixed allelic differences) support the notion of episodic exchange of alleles across Bass Strait (ca 60 m, 25 Kya) during periods of low sea level during the Upper Pleistocene rather than the much longer period of isolation (1.7 My) indicated by earlier studies using mitochondrial sequence variation. Our study provides foundational work for the detailed taxonomic re-evaluation of this species complex and the need for biodiversity assessment to include an examination of cryptic species and/or cryptic diversity below the level of species. Such information on lineage diversity within species and its distribution in the context of disturbance at a regional scale can be factored into conservation planning regardless of whether a decision is made to formally diagnose new species taxonomically and nomenclaturally.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8627
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


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