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Vicariance and endemism in a Neotropical savanna hotspot: distribution patterns of Cerrado squamate reptiles

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Aim  To test predictions of the vicariance model, to define basic biogeographical units for Cerrado squamates, and to discuss previous biogeographical hypotheses.

Location  Cerrado; South American savannas south of the Amazon, extending across central Brazil, with marginal areas in Bolivia and Paraguay and isolated relictual enclaves in adjacent regions.

Methods  We compiled species occurrence records via field sampling and revision of museum specimens and taxonomic literature. All species were mapped according to georeferenced locality records, and classified as (1) endemic or non‐endemic, (2) typical of plateaus or depressions, and (3) typical of open or forested habitats. We tested predictions of the vicariance model using biotic element analysis, searching for non‐random clusters of species ranges. Spatial congruence of biotic elements was compared with putative areas of endemism revealed by sympatric restricted‐range species. Effects of topographical and vegetational mosaics on distribution patterns were studied according to species composition in biotic elements and areas of endemism.

Results  We recorded 267 Cerrado squamates, of which 103 (39%) are endemics, including 20 amphisbaenians (61% endemism), 32 lizards (42%) and 51 snakes (32%). Distribution patterns corroborated predictions of the vicariance model, revealing groups of species with significantly clustered ranges. An analysis of endemic species recovered seven biotic elements, corroborating results including non‐endemics. Sympatric restricted‐range taxa delimited 10 putative areas of endemism, largely coincident with core areas of biotic elements detected with endemic taxa. Distribution patterns were associated with major topographical and vegetational divisions of the Cerrado. Endemism prevailed in open, elevated plateaus, whereas faunal interchange, mostly associated with forest habitats, was more common in peripheral depressions.

Main conclusions  Our results indicate that vicariant speciation has strongly shaped Cerrado squamate diversity, in contrast to earlier studies emphasizing faunal interchange and low endemism in the Cerrado vertebrate fauna. Levels of squamate endemism are higher than in any other Cerrado vertebrate group. The high number of recovered endemics revealed previously undetected areas of evolutionary relevance, indicating that biogeographical patterns in the Cerrado were poorly represented in previous analyses. Although still largely undocumented, effects of vicariant speciation may be prevalent in a large fraction of Cerrado and Neotropical biodiversity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Zoologia, Universidade de Brasília, 70910-900 Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brazil 2: Centro de Ciências Biológicas e da Saúde, Faculdades Integradas do Tapajós, 68010-200 Santarém, Pará, Brazil 3: Centro de Biociências, Departamento de Botânica, Ecologia e Zoologia, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, Campus Universitário – Lagoa Nova, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil

Publication date: 01 October 2011

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