Ecomorphological variation and sexual dimorphism in a recent radiation of dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion)


  • Jessica M. Da Silva,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
    • Applied Biodiversity Research Division, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town, South Africa
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  • Krystal A. Tolley

    1. Applied Biodiversity Research Division, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Cape Town, South Africa
    2. Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
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Natural selection tends to favour optimal phenotypes either through directional or stabilizing selection; however, phenotypic variation in natural populations is common and arises from a combination of biotic and abiotic interactions. In these instances, rare phenotypes may possess a fitness advantage over the more common phenotypes in particular environments, which can lead to adaptation and ecological speciation. A recently radiated clade of dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion) restricted to southern KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, is currently comprised of two species (Bradypodion melanocephalum and Bradypodion thamnobates), yet three other phenotypic forms exist, possibly indicating the clade is far more speciose. Very little genetic differentiation exists between these five phenotypic forms; however, all are allopatric in distribution, occupy different habitats and vary in overall size and coloration, which may indicate that these forms are adapting to their local environments and possibly undergoing ecological speciation. To test this, we collected morphometric and habitat data from each form and examined whether ecological relevant morphological differences exist between them that reflect their differential habitat use. Sexual dimorphism was detected in four of the five forms. Yet, the degree and number of dimorphic characters was different between them, with size-adjusted male-biased dimorphism being much more pronounced in B. thamnobates. Habitat differences also existed between sexes, with males occupying higher perches in more closed canopy (forested) habitats than females. Clear morphological distinctions were detected between four of the five forms, with the head explaining the vast majority of the variation. Chameleons occupying forested habitats tended to possess proportionally larger heads and feet but shorter limbs than those in open canopy habitats (i.e. grassland). These results show that this species complex of Bradypodion is morphologically variable for traits that are ecologically relevant for chameleons, and that the variation among the five phenotypic forms is associated with habitat type, suggesting that this species complex is in the early stages of ecological speciation. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 109, 113–130.