Colonization of islands in the Mona Passage by endemic dwarf geckoes (genus Sphaerodactylus) reconstructed with mitochondrial phylogeny



Little is known about the natural history of the Sphaerodactylus species endemic to the three islands located in the Mona Passage separating the Greater Antillean islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. In this study, parts of two mitochondrial genes, 16S rRNA and 12S rRNA, were sequenced to determine the relationships between the sphaerodactylids that live in the Mona Passage and other Caribbean species from the same genus. While the main goal was to identify the biogeographical origin of these species, we also identified a genetically distinct type of dwarf gecko that warrants future evaluation as a possible new species. According to the reconstructed phylogenies, we propose a stepwise model of colonization wherein S. nicholsi from southwestern Puerto Rico or a very close ancestor gave rise through a founder event to Sphaerodactylus monensis on Mona Island. In a similar fashion, S. monensis or a very close ancestor on Mona Island gave rise to S. levinsi on Desecheo Island. This study also suggests that the most recent common ancestor between the species from the islands in the Mona Passage and Puerto Rico existed approximately 3 MYA.