New Guinean orogenic dynamics and biota evolution revealed using a custom geospatial analysis pipeline

Publication Name

BMC Ecology and Evolution


Background: The New Guinean archipelago has been shaped by millions of years of plate tectonic activity combined with long-term fluctuations in climate and sea level. These processes combined with New Guinea’s location at the tectonic junction between the Australian and Pacific plates are inherently linked to the evolution of its rich endemic biota. With the advent of molecular phylogenetics and an increasing amount of geological data, the field of New Guinean biogeography begins to be reinvigorated. Results: We inferred a comprehensive dated molecular phylogeny of endemic diving beetles to test historical hypotheses pertaining to the evolution of the New Guinean biota. We used geospatial analysis techniques to compare our phylogenetic results with a newly developed geological terrane map of New Guinea as well as the altitudinal and geographic range of species ( Our divergence time estimations indicate a crown age (early diversification) for New Guinea Exocelina beetles in the mid-Miocene ca. 17 Ma, when the New Guinean orogeny was at an early stage. Geographic and geological ancestral state reconstructions suggest an origin of Exocelina ancestors on the eastern part of the New Guinean central range on basement rocks (with a shared affinity with the Australian Plate). Our results do not support the hypothesis of ancestors migrating to the northern margin of the Australian Plate from Pacific terranes that incrementally accreted to New Guinea over time. However, our analyses support to some extent a scenario in which Exocelina ancestors would have been able to colonize back and forth between the amalgamated Australian and Pacific terranes from the Miocene onwards. Our reconstructions also do not support an origin on ultramafic or ophiolite rocks that have been colonized much later in the evolution of the radiation. Macroevolutionary analyses do not support the hypothesis of heterogeneous diversification rates throughout the evolution of this radiation, suggesting instead a continuous slowdown in speciation. Conclusions: Overall, our geospatial analysis approach to investigate the links between the location and evolution of New Guinea’s biota with the underlying geology sheds a new light on the patterns and processes of lineage diversification in this exceedingly diverse region of the planet.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access





Article Number


Funding Number


Funding Sponsor

Wildlife Conservation Society



Link to publisher version (DOI)