The story of a rock-star: multilocus phylogeny and species delimitation in the starred or roughtail rock agama, Laudakia stellio (Reptilia: Agamidae)
SourceZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
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Situated at the junction of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean is an ideal region to study the effects of palaeogeography, ecology and long human presence on animal evolution. Laudakia stellio (Squamata: Agamidae) is found across this region and offers an excellent opportunity for such studies. The high morphological variation across their range suggests that these lizards might represent a species complex. This is the first study exploring their evolutionary history, using molecular markers and individuals from all described subspecies. We employed the latest phylogenetic and species-delimitation methods to identify all distinct evolutionary lineages, their genetic variation and divergence times. The phenotypical diversity of L. stellio matches its genetic differentiation: almost all subspecies correspond to well-supported retrieved subclades and additional distinct lineages representing intermediate morphs have been retrieved. ‘Laudakia stellio’ represents three distinct evolutionary entities that diverged during the Plio-Pleistocene transition, which we propose as distinct species. One includes Greek and Turkish populations, as well as cryptic Anatolian lineages. The second comprises all other Near East populations and the third is endemic to Cyprus. Our results indicate a role of humans in shaping present distribution patterns, and highlight the importance of the Aegean, Anatolia and the Levant as glacial refugia and diversity hotspots.