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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Phylogeography and diversification history of the day-gecko genus Phelsuma in the Seychelles islands

Sara Rocha123*, David Posada13 and D James Harris12

Author affiliations

1 CIBIO-UP, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Campus Agrário de Vairão, Vairão 4485-661, Portugal

2 Departamento de Biologia, Faculdade de Ciências, Rua do Campo Alegre, Porto FC4 4169-007, Portugal

3 Departamento de Bioquímica, Genética e Inmunología, Facultad de Biología, Universidad de Vigo, Vigo 36310, Spain

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-3

Published: 5 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Lying in a shallow continental shelf cyclically affected by oscillating sea levels since the Miocene, the Seychelles islands are particularly interesting for evolutionary studies. Recent molecular studies are generating an emerging picture of the origin of its biota, yet very little is known regarding their phylogeographic structure or on the factors promoting diversification within the archipelago. Here we aimed to obtain a detailed depiction of the genetic structure and evolution of one of the most widespread vertebrate groups in the archipelago: the day-geckos of the genus Phelsuma. In parallel, we aimed to infer divergence times between species and subspecies, testing a long-standing hypothesis that argues for different time since sympatry between species as the cause of their different morphological differentiation across the archipelago.

Results

Molecular data corroborated the existence of two main lineages, corresponding to the two currently recognized species. Divergences between species likely date back to the Mio-Pliocene, while more recent, Pleistocenic, divergences are suggested within each species. Populations from outer islands share mtDNA haplotypes with inner island populations, suggesting very recent dispersals (or introductions). We found no evidence of current gene flow between species, but results pointed to the possibility of gene flow between (now allopatric) subspecies. Time estimates suggest a synchronous divergence within each species (between island groups).

Conclusions

The geographic patterns of genetic variation agree with previous taxonomic subdivisions within each species and the origin of outer islands populations is clearly tracked. The similar intraspecific divergence time estimates obtained suggest that the differential body-size differentiation between species within each group of islands may be driven by factors other than character displacement proportional to time since sympatry, as previously suggested. These factors could include different habitats/resources available within each island group, niche differentiation and/or character displacement. We also bring again into consideration the hypothesis of body size being influenced by the distribution of native vegetation and social systems within this group, although it remains to be tested. Our results highlight not only the necessity of clarifying the role of ecology and interspecific interactions in this group’s morphological diversification and community assemblage, but also the importance of co-evolutionary mechanisms and their importance for appropriate conservation of island biodiversity. Further, we provide a detailed description of the phylogeographic structure of these taxa across these islands, which still remain poorly characterized in this respect.

Keywords:
Phelsuma; Seychelles; Phylogeography; Species-trees; Diversification; Morphological evolution; Character displacement; Biogeography