The subgenus Geckoella, the only ground-dwelling radiation within Cyrtodactylus, closely overlaps in distribution with brookii group Hemidactylus in peninsular India and Sri Lanka. Both groups have Oligocene origins, the latter with over thrice as many described species. The striking difference in species richness led us to believe that Geckoella diversity is underestimated, and we sampled for Geckoella across peninsular India. A multi-locus phylogeny reveals Geckoella diversity is hugely underestimated, with at least seven undescribed species, doubling previously known richness. Strikingly, the new species correspond to cryptic lineages within described Indian species (complexes); a number of these endemic lineages from the hills of peninsular India outside the Western Ghats, highlighting the undocumented diversity of the Indian dry zone. The Geckoella phylogeny demonstrates deep splits between the Indian species and Sri Lankan G. triedrus, and between Indian dry and wet zone clades, dating back to the late Oligocene. Geckoella and brookii group Hemidactylus show contrasting diversification patterns. Geckoella shows signals of niche conservatism and appears to have retained its ancestral forest habitat. The late Miocene burst in speciation in Geckoella may be linked to the expansion of rain forests during the mid-Miocene climatic optimum and subsequent fragmentation with increasing late Miocene aridification.
Keywords: Aridification; Cryptic species; Historical biogeography; Mid-Miocene climatic optimum.
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