Machado L, Salvi D, Harris DJ, Brito JC, Crochet P-A, Geniez P, Ahmadzadeh F, Carranza S




Plate tectonics constitute one of the main mechanisms of biological diversification on Earth, often being associated with cladogenetic events at different phylogenetic levels, as well as with exchange of faunas and floras across previously isolated biogeographic regions. North Africa and Arabia share a complex geological history that dates back to the break-up of the Arabian plate from the African plate ∼30–25 Mya, followed by various geological events, such as the formation of the Red Sea or the connection between the African, Arabian and Eurasian plates. Species with Saharo-Arabian distributions have shown a close association between their evolutionary history and these geological events. In this study, we investigate the systematics, biogeography and evolution of the genus Tropiocolotes, a group of small ground-dwelling geckos, comprised by 12 species distributed from the Atlantic coast of North Africa to southwestern Iran. Species delimitation analyses uncovered the existence of high levels of undescribed diversity, with forms here considered at the species level including Tropiocolotes tripolitanus (Mauritania and southern Morocco), T. nattereri (southern Israel) and T. scorteccii (Yemen and Oman). Phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses recovered two main clades, an exclusively African clade and a Saharo–Arabian clade, that split 25 Mya following a vicariant event mediated by the separation of the Arabian and African plates. The complex geological activity around the Red Sea is associated with the diversification within the Saharo-Arabian clade, including the colonization of North Africa from a second Tropiocolotes group. Results also provide new insights into the geographic distribution of Tropiocolotes nubicus, previously considered as exclusively associated to the Nile River valley, extending its known distribution further west, up to the Central Mountains of the Sahara. Accordingly, the Nile River seems to act as a major biogeographic barrier, separating Tropiocolotes nubicus and T. steudneri in their western and eastern margins, respectively.


Journal: Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution

DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2020.106969