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Adaptive radiation in Lesser Antillean lizards: molecular phylogenetics and species recognition in the Lesser Antillean dwarf gecko complex, Sphaerodactylus fantasticus

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The time associated with speciation varies dramatically among lower vertebrates. The nature and timing of divergence is investigated in the fantastic dwarf gecko Sphaerodactylus fantasticus complex, a nominal species that occurs on the central Lesser Antillean island of Guadeloupe and adjacent islands and islets. This is compared to the divergence in the sympatric anole clade from the Anolis bimaculatus group. A molecular phylogenetic analysis of numerous gecko populations from across these islands, based on three mitochondrial DNA genes, reveals several monophyletic groups occupying distinct geographical areas, these being Les Saintes, western Basse Terre plus Dominica, eastern Basse Terre, Grand Terre, and the northern and eastern islands (Montserrat, Marie Galante, Petite Terre, Desirade). Although part of the same nominal species, the molecular divergence within this species complex is extraordinarily high (27% patristic distance between the most divergent lineages) and is compatible with this group occupying the region long before the origin of the younger island arc. Tests show that several quantitative morphological traits are correlated with the phylogeny, but in general the lineages are not uniquely defined by these traits. The dwarf geckos show notably less nominal species-level adaptive radiation than that found in the sympatric southern clade of Anolis bimculatus, although both appear to have occupied the region for a broadly similar period of time. Nevertheless, the dwarf gecko populations on Les Saintes islets are the most morphologically distinct and are recognized as a full species (Sphaerodactylus phyzacinus), as are anoles on Les Saintes (Anolis terraealtae).
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Keywords: Lesser Antilles; adaptive radiation; mtDNA; phylogeography; speciation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 March 2008

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