Name: Pissarra J

Biodeserts supervisors: Brito JC, Velo-Antón G

Title: Phylogenetic relationships and genetic variability in Monitor lizards (Reptilia, Varanidae, Varanus) from West Africa

Institution: University of Porto

Status: Completed




Sahara and Sahel are important understudied ecoregions of the world that have its biodiversity being affected negatively by direct and indirect anthropogenic causes, like climate change, overhunting, and habitat change. In this study we focus on North African species of monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus, V. griseus, and V. exanthematicus) with the aim of better understand their phylogenetic relationships and population interactions in the region. Using the partial sequences of mitochondrial gene of NADH dehydrogenase subunit 4 (ND4) and its adjacent tRNA genes, we identified a relatively recent divergence event in V. griseus, a possible case of hybridization between V. exanthematicus and V. niloticus, and a putative new cryptic species of Varanus cf. exanthematicus. Results revealed previously undescribed diversity in Varanoid lizards in the region and open new research avenues about evolutionary mechanisms. Results are helpful for setting future research objectives and for designing conservation plans.