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Keywords:

  • Agamidae;
  • Cape Fold Mountains;
  • coalescence;
  • control region;
  • landscape genetics;
  • lizard;
  • mtDNA;
  • ND2;
  • phylogeography;
  • southern Africa

Abstract

Aim  Vicariance has played a major role in the evolution of the southern rock agama, Agama atra (Reptilia: Agamidae), and it is hypothesized that habitat shifts will affect small-scale patterns of gene flow. The Cape Floristic Region (CFR) is known for high levels of diversity and endemism; thus we set out to investigate whether genetic structuring of CFR populations of A. atra corresponds to regional environmental shifts.

Location  Cape Fold Mountains and the Cape Floristic Region of South Africa.

Methods  The phylogeographical structure of 116 individuals of A. atra was determined by making use of 988 characters derived from two mitochondrial DNA fragments (control region and the NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 coding region, ND2). Most animals originated from the CFR, but to gain a better understanding of the processes and patterns of dispersal within the species, 17 additional specimens from outside the CFR were also included and analysed in a phylogenetic context.

Results  Parsimony and Bayesian analyses revealed four distinct CFR clades (Cape clades) associated with geography. Phylogenetic analyses suggest that populations of A. atra in the CFR region are not entirely isolated from other populations, because some individuals from outside the CFR were nested within the four main Cape clades. The combined mitochondrial DNA data set revealed 59 distinct haplotypes in the CFR. Analysis of molecular variance (amova) confirmed the high degree of genetic structure among the Cape clades, with more than 75% of the genetic variation found among the geographical areas. A spatial amova suggested that a ‘central clade’ originally defined as one of the four Cape clades may contain several additional populations. The main cladogenesis of A. atra within the CFR is estimated to have taken place c. 0.64–2.36 Ma.

Main conclusions Agama atra shows at least four distinct genetic provinces within the CFR region, which highlights the conservation importance of this biologically diverse area. The dates of separation among the clades coincide well with the documented Pleistocene climate fluctuations, which might have contributed towards the isolation among lineages; the congruent genetic structure of A. atra with other CFR taxa further supports vicariance as a main isolating factor.