Phylogeographic analyses of the fauna of the Australian wet tropics rainforest have provided strong evidence for long-term isolation of populations among allopatric refugia, yet typically there is no corresponding divergence in morphology. This system provides an opportunity to examine the consequences of geographic isolation, independent of morphological divergence, and thus to assess the broader significance of historical subdivisions revealed through mitochondrial DNA phylogeography. We have located and characterized a zone of secondary contact between two long isolated (mtDNA divergence > 15%) lineages of the skink Carlia rubrigularis using one mitochondrial and eight nuclear (two intron, six microsatellite) markers. This revealed a remarkably narrow (width < 3 km) hybrid zone with substantial linkage disequilibrium and strong deficits of heterozygotes at two of three nuclear loci with diagnostic alleles. Cline centers were coincident across loci. Using a novel form of likelihood analysis, we were unable to distinguish between sigmoidal and stepped cline shapes except at one nuclear locus for which the latter was inferred. Given estimated dispersal rates of 90-133 m x gen(-1/2) and assuming equilibrium, the observed cline widths suggest effective selection against heterozygotes of at least 22-49% and possibly as high as 70%. These observations reveal substantial postmating isolation, although the absence of consistent deviations from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium at diagnostic loci suggests that there is little accompanying premating isolation. The tight geographic correspondence between transitions in mtDNA and those for nuclear genes and corresponding evidence for selection against hybrids indicates that these morphologically cryptic phylogroups could be considered as incipient species. Nonetheless, we caution against the use of mtDNA phylogeography as a sole criterion for defining species boundaries.
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