Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Phylogeography and demographic history of Lacerta lepida in the Iberian Peninsula: multiple refugia, range expansions and secondary contact zones

Andreia Miraldo13*, Godfrey M Hewitt1, Octavio S Paulo2 and Brent C Emerson14

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7J, UK

2 Centro de Biologia Ambiental/Departamento de Biologia Animal, Faculdade de Ciencias da Universidade de Lisboa, P-1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal

3 Metapopulation Research Group, University of Helsinki, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 65, 00014 Helsinki, Finland

4 Island Ecology and Evolution Research Group, IPNA-CSIC, C/Astrofísico Francisco Sánchez 3, 38206 La Laguna, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:170  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-170

Published: 17 June 2011



The Iberian Peninsula is recognized as an important refugial area for species survival and diversification during the climatic cycles of the Quaternary. Recent phylogeographic studies have revealed Iberia as a complex of multiple refugia. However, most of these studies have focused either on species with narrow distributions within the region or species groups that, although widely distributed, generally have a genetic structure that relates to pre-Quaternary cladogenetic events. In this study we undertake a detailed phylogeographic analysis of the lizard species, Lacerta lepida, whose distribution encompasses the entire Iberian Peninsula. We attempt to identify refugial areas, recolonization routes, zones of secondary contact and date demographic events within this species.


Results support the existence of 6 evolutionary lineages (phylogroups) with a strong association between genetic variation and geography, suggesting a history of allopatric divergence in different refugia. Diversification within phylogroups is concordant with the onset of the Pleistocene climatic oscillations. The southern regions of several phylogroups show a high incidence of ancestral alleles in contrast with high incidence of recently derived alleles in northern regions. All phylogroups show signs of recent demographic and spatial expansions. We have further identified several zones of secondary contact, with divergent mitochondrial haplotypes occurring in narrow zones of sympatry.


The concordant patterns of spatial and demographic expansions detected within phylogroups, together with the high incidence of ancestral haplotypes in southern regions of several phylogroups, suggests a pattern of contraction of populations into southern refugia during adverse climatic conditions from which subsequent northern expansions occurred. This study supports the emergent pattern of multiple refugia within Iberia but adds to it by identifying a pattern of refugia coincident with the southern distribution limits of individual evolutionary lineages. These areas are important in terms of long-term species persistence and therefore important areas for conservation.