A new lizard species (Scincidae: Ctenotus) highlights persistent knowledge gaps on the biodiversity of Australia’s central deserts


  • Ivan Prates Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6314-8852
  • Mark N. Hutchinson South Australian Museum
  • Joel A. Huey Biologic Environmental Survey
  • Mia J. Hillyer School of Molecular and Life Sciences, Curtin University
  • Daniel L. Rabosky Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan




cryptic species, population genetics, phylogeography, arid zone, Ctenotus schomburgkii


Australia harbors the most diverse lizard assemblages on Earth, yet the biodiversity of its vast arid zone remains incompletely characterized. Recent sampling of remote regions has revealed new species with unique phenotypes and unclear evolutionary affinities. Here, we describe a new species of scincid lizard that appears to be widely distributed across the Great Victoria Desert and adjacent regions. The new species was previously overlooked among specimens of the wide-ranging desert taxon Ctenotus schomburgkii but is distinguished from it by coloration and scalation characters. Phylogenetic analyses based on mitochondrial and genome-wide nuclear loci confirmed that the new species is highly divergent from C. schomburgkii, with which it appears to be sympatric across much of its range. In addition to the new species, our survey of genetic variation within C. schomburgkii as currently recognized revealed three additional lineages that approach one another in southern and northwestern Australia, and which may also represent distinct species. These results suggest that our knowledge of the extraordinary biodiversity of arid Australia remains incomplete, with implications for the conservation and management of this unique fauna. The targeted collection of voucher specimens in undersampled regions, coupled with population genetic screening of lineage diversity, will be crucial for characterizing species boundaries and understanding the composition of Australia’s vertebrate communities.