Predicting the environmental niche of the genus Phymaturus: Are palluma and patagonicus groups ecologically differentiated?



The genus Phymaturus (Reptilia: Liolaemidae) is distributed in the mountains and rocky plateaux of Argentina and Chile and comprises two groups of species, palluma and patagonicus. The two lineages have diverged early in the evolution of the genus and up to today, there is very little geographical overlap between them. We worked with records of localities from the literature, herpetological collections and field data to evaluate habitat suitability of the genus Phymaturus. We used 11 environmental variables to develop environmental niche models (ENMs) for each group within the genus using the Maxent software, and to determine those variables that best explain the distribution of each group. We also estimated measures of niche similarity using ENMTools to determine whether niche differentiation is real or apparent. The geographical overlap between the groups was very low considering the large geographical range of the genus. Some variables, such as mean annual temperature, soil type and bare soil cover, have a high contribution to the models for both groups. The current niche overlap between Phymaturus groups indicates that the environmental niches of the palluma and patagonicus groups are not equivalent. Based on background analysis, we cannot reject the hypothesis that similarity (or divergence) between groups of Phymaturus is no more than expected based on the availability of habitat. The results of this study are a first approximation to the knowledge of the environmental variables associated with the palluma and patagonicus groups, and reveal that the ecological differences found between these groups are more likely due to habitat availability in their respective regions than to differences in habitat preferences.