Systematics, speciation and biogeography of the dwarf chameleons (Brookesia; Reptilia, Squamata, Chamaeleontidae) of northern Madagascar



Brookesia dwarf chameleons, endemic to Madagascar, were surveyed at the following localities in northern Madagascar (north of 16°S): Montagne d'Ambre, Ankarana, Manongarivo, Tsaratanana, Marojejy and Masoala. A total of 15 species occur in this region. Six new species are described and five new synonyms are identified. The genus Brookesia, the most speciose chamaeleontid genus in Madagascar, contains 23 species.

Almost all the northern Brookesia species are restricted to rainforest and occupy a relatively narrow elevational range. Although the northern rainforests represent just one-third of the total rainforest and about 5% of the total island area, 65% of the Brookesia species occur in this region, and 52% are endemic to the northern rainforest. Five new biogeographic regions of the northern rainforest are identified based on centres of Brookesia endemicity: Montagne d'Ambre, Northwest, Tsaratanana, Northeast and East. Speciation is thought to have been facilitated in the north through geographic isolation, with the Tsaratanana mountain range and the dry forests south of Montagne d'Ambre forming barriers to dispersal, and the Tsaratanana mountains acting as a centre of isolation. The fragmented distribution of several Brookesia species of low altitude rainforest suggests a period in Madagascar's history when the climate was wetter and low altitude rainforest much more widespread.