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This content will become publicly available on July 17, 2024

Title: Notes from the taxonomic disaster zone: Evolutionary drivers of intractable species boundaries in an Australian lizard clade (Scincidae: Ctenotus )

Genomic‐scale datasets, sophisticated analytical techniques, and conceptual advances have disproportionately failed to resolve species boundaries in some groups relative to others. To understand the processes that underlie taxonomic intractability, we dissect the speciation history of an Australian lizard clade that arguably represents a “worst‐case” scenario for species delimitation within vertebrates: theCtenotus inornatusspecies group, a clade beset with decoupled genetic and phenotypic breaks, uncertain geographic ranges, and parallelism in purportedly diagnostic morphological characters. We sampled hundreds of localities to generate a genomic perspective on population divergence, structure, and admixture. Our results revealed rampant paraphyly of nominate taxa in the group, with lineages that are either morphologically cryptic or polytypic. Isolation‐by‐distance patterns reflect spatially continuous differentiation among certain pairs of putative species, yet genetic and geographic distances are decoupled in other pairs. Comparisons of mitochondrial and nuclear gene trees, tests of nuclear introgression, and historical demographic modelling identified gene flow between divergent candidate species. Levels of admixture are decoupled from phylogenetic relatedness; gene flow is often higher between sympatric species than between parapatric populations of the same species. Such idiosyncratic patterns of introgression contribute to species boundaries that are fuzzy while also varying in fuzziness. Our results suggest that “taxonomic disaster zones” like theC. inornatusspecies group result from spatial variation in the porosity of species boundaries and the resulting patterns of genetic and phenotypic variation. This study raises questions about the origin and persistence of hybridizing species and highlights the unique insights provided by taxa that have long eluded straightforward taxonomic categorization.

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Molecular Ecology
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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