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Deciphering patterns of transoceanic dispersal: the evolutionary origin and biogeography of coastal lizards (Cryptoblepharus) in the Western Indian Ocean region

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Abstract Aim 

Cryptoblepharus is a genus of small arboreal or rock-dwelling scincid lizards, widespread through the Indo-Pacific and Australian regions, with a disjunct outlier in the Malagasy region. The taxonomy within this genus is controversial, with different authors ranking the different forms (now some 36) at various levels, from different species to subspecies of a single species, Cryptoblepharus boutonii. We investigated the biogeography and genetic differentiation of the Cryptoblepharus from the Western Indian Ocean region, in order to understand their origin and history. Location 

Western Indian Ocean region . Methods 

We analysed sequences of mitochondrial DNA (partial 12s and 16s rRNA genes, 766 bp) from 48 specimens collected in Madagascar, Mauritius, the four Comoros islands and East Africa, and also in New Caledonia, representing the Australo-Pacific unit of the distribution. Results 

Pairwise sequence divergences of c. 3.1% were found between the New Caledonian forms and the ones from the Western Indian Ocean. Two clades were identified in Madagascar, probably corresponding to the recognized forms cognatus and voeltzkowi, and two clades were identified in the Comoro islands, where each island population formed a distinct haplotype clade. The East African samples form a monophyletic unit, with some variation existing between Pemba, Zanzibar and continental Tanzania populations. Individuals from Mauritius form a divergent group, more related to populations from Moheli and Grand Comore (Comoros islands) than to the others. Main conclusions 

The level of divergence between the populations from the Western Indian Ocean and Australian regions and the geographic coherence of the variation within the Western Indian Ocean group are concordant with the hypothesis of a colonization of this region by a natural transoceanic dispersal (from Australia or Indonesia). The group then may have diversified in Madagascar, from where it separately colonized the East African coast, the Comoros islands (twice), and Mauritius. The genetic divergence found is congruent with the known morphological variation, but its degree is much lower than typically seen between distinct species of reptiles.

Keywords: Africa; Comoros; Cryptoblepharus; Madagascar; Mauritius; Scincidae; Squamata; island colonization; transoceanic dispersal

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos (CIBIO/UP), ICETA, Campus Agrário de Vairão, Vila do Conde, Portugal 2: Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Zoological Museum, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 3: Zoologische Staatssammlung, München, Germany

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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