Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences

Document Type



Speciation, geographic variation, and genetic differentiation are fundamental processes that generate diversity, and understanding these processes are major goals of evolutionary biology. Evolutionary phenomena may be more observable on islands as compared to continental landmasses as a result of small population sizes, unoccupied niches, and the relative simplicity of island systems and their populations: physical isolation, shorter (and often well documented) geologic time scale, reduced faunal diversity, and lack of outside faunal influence. Yet, despite their incredible diversity, Pacific island faunas have received little research attention relative to other tropical regions. Using molecular data from several species of scincid lizards in the genus Emoia, I test hypotheses related to the generation and maintenance of biodiversity in Pacific oceanic systems, examining historical patterns of colonization, dispersal, and differentiation for a member of a vertebrate family with a broad distribution in the islands of the Pacific. This research is primarily conducted within the Vanuatu Archipelago, an ideal island group in which to examine questions associated with the role of island systems in promoting diversification and speciation. Vanuatu is an oceanic archipelago and its fauna is derived either via over water dispersal or cladogenesis. As it is also a geologically young island group (most islands emergent < 2 mya) interpretation and analysis of intra-archipelago variation during the early stages of a radiation are possible from data collected in this system. Comparison of patterns of diversification and differentiation recovered from Emoia in Vanuatu with patterns recovered for species in other well-studied, older island radiations (such as the Hawaiian Islands) enables an understanding of the generality of factors promoting diversity and speciation in island systems.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Austin, Christopher C