Pre-Quaternary divergence and subsequent radiation explain longitudinal patterns of genetic and morphological variation in the striped skink, Heremites vittatus
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CitationBaier, Felix, Andreas Schmitz, Hedwig Sauer-Gürth, and Michael Wink. 2017. “Pre-Quaternary divergence and subsequent radiation explain longitudinal patterns of genetic and morphological variation in the striped skink, Heremites vittatus.” BMC Evolutionary Biology 17 (1): 132. doi:10.1186/s12862-017-0969-0. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12862-017-0969-0.
AbstractBackground: Many animal and plant species in the Middle East and northern Africa have a predominantly longitudinal distribution, extending from Iran and Turkey along the eastern Mediterranean coast into northern Africa. These species are potentially characterized by longitudinal patterns of biological diversity, but little is known about the underlying biogeographic mechanisms and evolutionary timescales. We examined these questions in the striped skink, Heremites vittatus, one such species with a roughly longitudinal distribution across the Middle East and northern Africa, by analyzing range-wide patterns of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence and multi-trait morphological variation. Results: The striped skink exhibits a basic longitudinal organization of mtDNA diversity, with three major mitochondrial lineages inhabiting northern Africa, the eastern Mediterranean coast, and Turkey/Iran. Remarkably, these lineages are of pre-Quaternary origin, and are characterized by p-distances of 9–10%. In addition, within each of these lineages a more recent Quaternary genetic diversification was observed, as evidenced by deep subclades and high haplotype diversity especially in the Turkish/Iranian and eastern Mediterranean lineages. Consistent with the genetic variation, our morphological analysis revealed that the majority of morphological traits show significant mean differences between specimens from northern Africa, the eastern Mediterranean coast, and Turkey/Iran, suggesting lineage-specific trait evolution. In addition, a subset of traits exhibits clinal variation along the eastern Mediterranean coast, potentially indicating selection gradients at the geographic transition from northern Africa to Anatolia. The existence of allopatric, morphologically and genetically divergent lineages suggests that Heremites vittatus might represent a complex with several taxa. Conclusions: Our work demonstrates that early divergence events in the Pliocene, likely driven by both climatic and geological factors, established the longitudinal patterns and distribution of Heremites vittatus. Subsequent radiation during the Pleistocene generated the genetic and morphological diversity observed today. Our study provides further evidence that longitudinal diversity patterns and species distributions in the Middle East and northern Africa were shaped by complex evolutionary processes, involving the region’s intricate geological history, climatic oscillations, and the presence of the Sahara. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12862-017-0969-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
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