Ancient gecko shines light on Australian desert origins

Date:

Share post:

Researchers have discovered an ancient species of gecko in the ranges of Central Australia which may shine new light on how and when Australia’s deserts began to form millions of year ago.

Ancient gecko shines light on Australian desert origins
The ancient gecko Oedura luritja had been hiding in plain sight [Credit: Steven Zozoya]

Lead researcher Dr Paul Oliver from ANU said the velvet gecko Oedura luritja from the iconic ranges of Central Australia had been hiding in plain sight.

“The gecko lives in popular tourist sites such as Kings Canyon and Palm Valley, and had been confused with other similar-looking species,” said Dr Oliver from the ANU Research School of Biology.

He said genetics indicated this gecko had no close living relatives.

“We estimate Oedura luritja separated from all living relatives about 10 million years ago. This corresponds well with other evidence that deserts were expanding across Australia at this time,” Dr Oliver said.

“Many plants and animals have isolated populations in the ranges of Central Australia, but recent work has revealed that these species are closely related to or the same as species living elsewhere in Australia – in some cases may have actually been moved there by people.”

Dr Oliver said the Oedura luritja gecko told a very different story.

“This suggests this gecko may have been isolated by this initial aridification of Australia long ago, and then persisted in its rocky refuge for millions of years. It is what we know as a relict species – something left behind after all its relatives have died out,” he said.

The discovery of the new gecko species also solved a 40-year-old mystery, Dr Oliver said.

“Former ANU researcher Robert Bustard noticed an unusual population of velvet geckos living in the Mereenie Sandstones of the MacDonnell Ranges, south of Alice Springs. But he was not sure just how significant the scale and colour differences this population showed were,” he said.

To resolve this mystery, Dr Oliver worked with Peter McDonald from the Northern Territory Government and Indigenous Rangers in Central Australia.

The research team determined the evolutionary relationships between the Oedura luritja gecko and other geckos in Central Australia and elsewhere. They also analysed museum collections of gecko specimens from the 1960s and 1970s.

The Oedura lurita, named after Aboriginal people from the region where it lives, is a large purple gecko with distinctive yellow spots and bands.

The research results are published in Royal Society Open Science.

Source: Australian National University [November 14, 2016]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Greenland ice is melting 7 percent faster than previously thought

The same hotspot in Earth's mantle that feeds Iceland's active volcanoes has been playing a trick on the...

Virus study may signal trouble for animal populations facing climate change

Aside from rising sea levels, many climate change models predict that in the future, the planet's temperature and...

Ocean ‘dead zones’ are spreading – and that spells disaster for fish

Falling ocean oxygen levels due to rising temperatures and influence from human activities such as agrochemical use is...

Evolution keeps sex determination flexible

There are many old wives' tales about what determines a baby's sex, yet it is the tight controls...

ALMA finds ‘monster’ starburst galaxies in the early universe

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope have discovered starburst galaxies earlier in the Universe's history...

Board games originated as pastime for elite

Board games originated as exclusive pastime for the elites, and probably spread across Europe during Roman conquest, a...

Ancient genetic program employed in more than just fins and limbs

Hox genes are master body-building genes that specify where an animal's head, tail and everything in between should...

Genomes uncover life’s early history

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest...