Silva TL, Vale CG, Godinho R, Fellous A, Hingrat Y, Alves PC, Abáigar T, Brito JC



Conservation planning of threatened taxa relies upon accurate data on systematics, ecological traits and suitable habitats. The genus Gazella includes taxa with distinct morphologies and ecological traits, but close phylogenetic relationships. The North African Gazella cuvieri and Gazella leptoceros loderi share morphological and physiological characters but the former is darker and found in mountain areas, while the latter is lighter and associated with sand dunes. Here we aim to assess the genetic distinctiveness of these taxa, to characterize their ecological niches and to identify potential occurrence areas, by analysing 327 samples across North-West Africa. Phylogenetic analyses based on mitochondrial (CYTB) and five nuclear gene fragments (KCAS, LAC, SPTBN1, PRKCI and THYR) show that both taxa comprise a single monophyletic group. However, ecological niche-based modelling suggests that populations of these taxa occupy distinct geographic areas and specific environments. Predicted areas of sympatry were restricted, as a consequence of local sharp transitions in climatic traits. The lack of genetic differentiation between these taxa suggests they should be lumped into G. cuvieri, while ecological and morphological differences indicate they correspond to distinct ecotypes. Conservation planning of G. cuvieri should consider the preservation of both mountain and lowland ecotypes to maintain the overall adaptive potential of the species. This integrative approach provides valuable insights in identifying evolutionary units and should be extended to other gazelles.



Journal: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

DOI: 10.1093/biolinnean/blx064