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Lizards took express train to Polynesia

An Erratum to this article was published on 25 February 1999


The pattern of human colonization of the islands of the central and eastern Pacific is contentious. Two models have been widely considered: the ‘express train to Polynesia’ and the ‘entangled bank’ hypotheses1,2,3,4. Here I analyse the mitochondrial DNA sequences of the lizard Lipinia noctua, which lives alongside humans on these Pacific islands, with a view to distinguishing between these two hypotheses. From a phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequence variation, I find that these lizards colonized the central and eastern Pacific as a result of human-mediated dispersal, presumably as stowaways on early Polynesian canoes. The extreme genetic similarity between the different colonies indicates rapid colonization from a single source, which I take as support of the express-train hypothesis.

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Figure 1: Maximum-parsimony phylogram for Lipinia noctua.


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Austin, C. Lizards took express train to Polynesia. Nature 397, 113–114 (1999).

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