Species delimitation and digit number in a North African skink



R. P. Brown, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L3 3AF. Tel: +44 151 2312159; Fax: +44 151 2312338; E-mail: r.p.brown@ljmu.ac.uk


Delimitation of species is an important and controversial area within evolutionary biology. Many species boundaries have been defined using morphological data. New genetic approaches now offer more objective evaluation and assessment of the reliability of morphological variation as an indicator that speciation has occurred. We examined geographic variation in morphology of the continuously distributed skink Chalcides mionecton from Morocco and used Bayesian analyses of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) loci to examine: (i) their concordance with morphological patterns, (ii) support for species delimitation, (iii) timing of speciation, and (iv) levels of gene flow between species. Four digit individuals were found at sites between Cap Rhir (in the south) and the northern extreme of the range, whereas five-digit individuals were found in two disjunct areas: (i) south of Cap Rhir and (ii) the north of the range where they were often syntopic with four-digit individuals. The pattern of variation in generalized body dimensions was largely concordant with that in digit number, suggesting two general morphotypes. Bayesian analyses of population structure showed that individuals from sites south of Cap Rhir formed one genetic cluster, but that northern four- and five-digit individuals clustered together. Statistical support for delimitation of these genetic clusters into two species was provided by a recent Bayesian method. Phylogenetic–coalescent dating with external time calibrations indicates that speciation was relatively recent, with a 95% posterior interval of 0.46–2.66 mya. This postdates equivalent phylogenetic dating estimates of sequence divergence by approximately 1 Ma. Statistical analyses of a small number of independent loci provide important insights into the history of the speciation process in C. mionecton and support delimitation of populations into two species with distributions that are spatially discordant with patterns of morphological variation.