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Multi-locus DNA sequence data reveal a history of deep cryptic vicariance and habitat-driven convergence in the desert night lizard Xantusia vigilis species complex (Squamata: Xantusiidae)


  • Present address: Department of Biology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, California, 92182-4614, USA

Dean H. Leavitt, Fax: 619 594 5676; E-mail:


The lizard genus Xantusia of southwestern North America has received recent attention in relation to delimiting species. Using more than 500 lizards from 156 localities, we further test hypothesized species boundaries and clarify phylogeographical patterns, particularly in regions of potential secondary contact. We sequenced the entire mitochondrial cytochrome b gene for every lizard in the study, plus a second mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) region and two nuclear introns for subsets of the total sample. Phylogenetic analyses of the mtDNA recover a well-resolved, novel hypothesis for species in the Xantusia vigilis complex. The nuclear DNA (nDNA) data provide independent support for the recognition of X. arizonae, X. bezyi and X. wigginsi. Differences between the respective mtDNA and nDNA topologies result from either the effects of lineage sorting or ancient introgression. Nuclear data confirm the inference that some populations of X. vigilis in northwestern Arizona converged on rock-crevice-dwelling morphology and are not X. arizonae with an introgressed X. vigilis mtDNA genome. The historical independence of ancient cryptic lineages of Xantusia in southern California is also corroborated, though limited introgression is detected. Our proposed biogeographical scenario indicates that diversification of this group was driven by vicariance beginning in the late Miocene. Additionally, Pleistocene climatical changes influenced Xantusia distribution, and the now inhospitable Colorado Desert previously supported night lizard presence. The current taxonomy of the group likely underestimates species diversity within the group, and our results collectively show that while convergence on the rock-crevice-dwelling morphology is one hallmark of Xantusia evolution, morphological stasis is paradoxically another.