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Phylogenomics of monitor lizards and the role of competition in dictating body size disparity

Cite this dataset

Brennan, Ian et al. (2020). Phylogenomics of monitor lizards and the role of competition in dictating body size disparity [Dataset]. Dryad.


Organismal interactions drive the accumulation of diversity by influencing species ranges, morphology, and behavior. Interactions vary from agonistic to cooperative and should result in predictable patterns in trait and range evolution. However, despite a conceptual understanding of these processes, they have been difficult to model, particularly on macroevolutionary timescales and across broad geographic spaces. Here we investigate the influence of biotic interactions on trait evolution and community assembly in monitor lizards (Varanus). Monitors are an iconic radiation with a cosmopolitan distribution and the greatest size disparity of any living terrestrial vertebrate genus. Between the colossal Komodo dragon Varanus komodoensis and the smallest Australian dwarf goannas, Varanus length and mass vary by multiple orders of magnitude. To test the hypothesis that size variation in this genus was driven by character displacement, we extended existing phylogenetic comparative methods which consider lineage interactions to account for dynamic biogeographic history and apply these methods to Australian monitors and marsupial predators. Incorporating both exon-capture molecular and morphological datasets we use a combined evidence approach to estimate the relationships among living and extinct varaniform lizards. Our results suggest that communities of Australian Varanus show high functional diversity as a result of continent-wide interspecific competition among monitors but not with faunivorous marsupials. We demonstrate that patterns of trait evolution resulting from character displacement on continental scales are recoverable from comparative data and highlight that these macroevolutionary patterns may develop in parallel across widely distributed sympatric groups.

Usage notes

This Dryad project holds the molecular, morphological, and distributional data, as well as R scripts and walk-throughs of the analyses required to repeat our study on monitor lizard phylogenetics and evolution. Data and code (with the exception of molecular alignments) can also be found at:


Australian Government, Award: International Postgraduate Research Scholarship,

Australian Research Council