scientist holding a legless lizard with tweezers

Legless lizards of Queensland

Queensland Museum researchers in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Environment and Science have recently undertaken investigations of two species of legless lizard species that are unique to Queensland.

These species have distributions centred around the Brigalow Belt Bioregion and nearby areas in south-east and Central Queensland. Research on fossil deposits from this area is revealing remarkable histories of biotic change and species turnover in response to climate change in the last 300 thousand years.

Legless lizards of Queensland

Research aim

The collaborative research team set out to use genetics to infer how these legless lizards may have responded to prehistoric climate change.

Research findings

The findings were published in a special edition of the International Journal of the Israel Journal of Ecology & Evolution, 2020 focused on gecko evolution and biology. They complement recent work on fossils from the area by indicating that they may have also been changes in the distributions of these legless lizards. More specifically, the findings include the following:

  • The tiny collared legless lizard Delma torquate consist of two genetically divergent and now isolated populations – on in the iconic uplands around the Carnarvon ranges and one in coastal areas. This points to a formerly wider range, with probable contraction into refugial areas as climates warmed over the last million odd years.
  • The Brigalow Scaly-foot Paradelma orientalis, occurs in more lowland areas and shows lower genetic diversity over most of its range, however, there is evidence that genetic diversity is higher in the north and lower in the south.
  • In order to survive any rapid climatic change in the future, species may need to be able to move to new area where climates remain suitable – what capacity they may have to do that in the extensively cleared landscapes of Central Queensland is an interesting and important question.

These results contribute to a growing picture that habitats and animals and eastern Queensland have undergone marked cycles of contraction, expansion and sometimes extinction through prehistoric climate change. Building our understanding of the evolutionary history of Queensland animals and plants may be critical to help us preserve biodiversity for the future.

The scientific paper titled Comparative mitochondrial phylogeography of two legless lizards (Pygopodidae) from Queensland’s fragmented woodlands was co-authored by researchers from the Biodiversity and Geosciences Program, Queensland Museum including Jessica Worthington Wilmer, Andrew Amey and Paul Oliver. Read the full publication.

Want to learn more? Read the blog.


Legless lizard or snake?

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