Radiation, multiple dispersal and parallelism in the skinks, Chalcides and Sphenops (Squamata: Scincidae), with comments on Scincus and Scincopus and the age of the Sahara Desert

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2008
Authors:Carranza, S, Arnold, EN, Geniez, P, Roca, J, MATEO, JA
Journal:Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Date Published:2008
ISBN Number:1055-7903
Keywords:biogeography, Chalcides, ecomorph, Eumeces, Fringillidae, Maghreb, parallelism, phylogeny, Sahara, Scincopus, Scincus, Serinus, Serinus canaria, Sphenops
Abstract:Phylogenetic analysis using up to 1325 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA from 179 specimens and 30 species of Chalcides, Sphenops, Eumeces, Scincopus and Scincus indicates that Sphenops arose twice independently within Chalcides. It is consequently synonymized with that genus. Chalcides in this broader sense originated in Morocco, diversifying into four main clades about 10 Ma, after which some of its lineages dispersed widely to cover an area 40 times as large. Two separate lineages invaded the Canary Islands and at least five main lineages colonized southern Europe. At least five more spread across northern Africa, one extending into southwest Asia. Elongate bodies with reduced limbs have evolved at least four times in Chalcides, mesic ‘grass-swimmers’ being produced in one case and extensive adaptation to life in loose desert sand in two others. In clade, Chalcides striatus colonized SW Europe from NW Africa 2.6 Ma and C. chalcides mainland Italy 1.4 Ma, both invasions being across water, while C. c. vittatus reached Sardinia more recently, perhaps anthropogenically, and C. guentheri spread 1200 km further east to Israel. C. minutus is a composite, with individuals from the type locality forming a long independent lineage and the remaining ones investigated being most closely related to C. mertensi. In the Northern clade, C. boulengeri and C. sepsoides spread east through sandy habitats north of the Sahara about 5 Ma, the latter reaching Egypt. C. bedriagai invaded Spain around the same time, perhaps during the Messinian period when the Mediterranean was dry, and shows considerable diversification. Although it is currently recognized as one species, the C. ocellatus clade exhibits as much phylogenetic depth as the other main clades of Chalcides, having at least six main lineages. These have independently invaded Malta and Sardinia from Tunisia and also southwest Arabia C. o. humilis appears to have spread over 4000 km through the Sahel, south of the Sahara quite recently, perhaps in the Pleistocene. In the Western clade of Chalcides, C. delislei appears to have dispersed in a similar way. There were also two invasions of the Canary Islands: one around 5 Ma by C. simonyi, and the other about 7 Ma by the ancestor of C. viridanus + C. sexlineatus. C. montanus was believed to be related to C. lanzai of the Northern clade, but in the mtDNA tree it is placed within C. polylepis of the Western clade, although this may possibly be an artifact of introgression. The Eumeces schneideri group, Scincopus and Scincus form a clade separate from Chalcides. Within this clade, the geographically disjunct E. schneideri group is paraphyletic. One of its members, E. algeriensis is the sister taxon to Scincopus, and Scincus may also be related to these taxa. The phylogeny suggests Scincopus entered desert conditions in Africa, up to 9.6 Ma and the same may have been true of Scincus up to 11.7 Ma. Scincus appears to have diversified and spread into Arabia around 6 Ma. Dates of origin and divergence of these skinks, desert Chalcides and other squamates agree with recent geological evidence that the Sahara is at least 5–7 My old. The subspecies Chalcides viridanus coeruleopunctatus is upgraded to the species level as C. coeruleopunctatus stat nov., on the basis of its large genetic divergence from C. v. viridanus.
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