Molecular systematics and evolutionary origins of the genus Petaurus (Marsupialia: Petauridae) in Australia and New Guinea

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Malekian, M, Cooper, SJB, Norman, JA, Christidis, L & Carthew, SM 2010, 'Molecular systematics and evolutionary origins of the genus Petaurus (Marsupialia: Petauridae) in Australia and New Guinea', Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 122-135.

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The glider genus Petaurus comprises a group of arboreal and nocturnal marsupial species from New Guinea and Australia. Molecular data were generated in order to examine phylogenetic relationships among species within the genus and explore the time-scale of diversification and biogeographic history of the genus in Australia and New Guinea. All known species and subspecies of Petaurus (with the exception of P. biacensis) were sequenced for two mitochondrial genes (ND2 and ND4) and one nuclear marker (omega-globin gene). Phylogenetic analyses confirmed the monophyly of the genus relative to other petaurids and showed a sister relationship of P. australis to the rest of Petaurus. The analyses revealed that currently recognised species of Petaurus formed distinct mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) clades. Considerable mtDNA diversity and seven distinct clades were identified within the species P. breviceps, with the distribution of each clade showing no correspondence with the distributional limits of known subspecies. Molecular dating analyses using BEAST suggested an early to mid-Miocene origin (18–24 mya) for the genus. Ancestral area reconstructions, using BayesTraits, did not resolve the location for the centre of origin of Petaurus, but provided evidence for at least one dispersal event from New Guinea to Australia that led to the evolution of extant Australian populations of P. breviceps, P. norfolcensis and P. gracilis. The timing of this dispersal event appears to pre-date the Pleistocene, adding to the growing number of studies that suggest faunal connections occurred between Australia and New Guinea in the Late Miocene to Pliocene period.

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