Monday, August 29, 2016

[Herpetology • 2016] Microendemicity in the northern Hajar Mountains of Oman and the United Arab Emirates with the Description of Two New Species of Geckos of the Genus Asaccus (Squamata: Phyllodactylidae); Asaccus gardneri & A. margaritae

 Asaccus gardneri & A. margaritae 
 Carranza​​, Simó-Riudalbas​, Jayasinghe, Wilms & Els, 2016 

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2371

The Hajar Mountains of Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the highest mountain range in Eastern Arabia. As a result of their old geological origin, geographical isolation, complex topography and local climate, these mountains provide an important refuge for endemic and relict species of plants and animals with strong Indo-Iranian affinities. Among vertebrates, the rock climbing nocturnal geckos of the genus Asaccus represent the genus with the highest number of endemic species in the Hajar Mountains. Recent taxonomic studies on the Zagros populations of Asaccus have shown that this genus is much richer than it was previously thought and preliminary morphological and molecular data suggest that its diversity in Arabia may also be underestimated.

A total of 83 specimens originally classified as Asaccus caudivolvulus (including specimens of the two new species described herein), six other Asaccus species from the Hajar and the Zagros Mountains and two representatives of the genus Haemodracon were sequenced for up to 2,311 base pairs including the mitochondrial 12S and cytb and the nuclear c-mos, MC1R and ACM4 genes. Phylogenetic relationships were inferred using both Bayesian and maximum-likelihood approaches and the former method was also used to calibrate the phylogenetic tree. Haplotype networks and phylogenetic trees were inferred from the phased nuclear genes only. Sixty-one alcohol-preserved adult specimens originally classified as Asaccus caudivolvulus from the northern Hajar Mountains were examined for 13 morphometric and the five meristic variables using multivariate methods and were also used to diagnose and describe the two new species.

The results of the molecular and morphological analyses indicate that the species originally classified as Asaccus caudivolvulus is, in fact, an assemblage of three different species that started diversifying during the Mid-Miocene. The molecular phylogenies consistently recovered the Hajar endemic A. montanus as sister taxon to all the other Asaccus species included in the analyses, rendering the Arabian species of Asaccus polyphyletic.

Using this integrative approach we have uncovered a very old diversification event that has resulted in a case of microendemicity, where three morphologically and ecologically similar medium-sized lizard species coexist in a very short and narrow mountain stretch. Asaccus caudivolvulus is restricted to a small coastal area of the UAE and at risk from heavy development, while the two new species described herein are widely distributed across the northern tip of the Hajar Mountains and seem to segregate in altitude when found in close proximity in the Musandam Peninsula (Oman). Similarly to other integrative analyses of Hajar reptiles, this study highlights the high level of diversity and endemicity of this arid mountain range, underscoring its status as one of the top hotspots of reptile diversity in Arabia.

Keywords: Phylogeny, Systematics, Arabia, Diversification, Reptiles, Speciation, Taxonomy, Evolution, Mountains, Biogeography

Salvador Carranza​​, Marc Simó-Riudalbas​, Sithum Jayasinghe, Thomas Wilms and Johannes Els. 2016. Microendemicity in the northern Hajar Mountains of Oman and the United Arab Emirates with the Description of Two New Species of Geckos of the Genus Asaccus (Squamata: Phyllodactylidae).  PeerJ. 4:e2371. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2371