Integrative taxonomic and geographic variation analyses in Cyrtodactylus aequalis (Squamata: Gekkonidae) from southern Myanmar (Burma): one species, two different stories

In: Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution
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  • a Herpetology Laboratory, Department of Biology, La Sierra University, 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, USA
  • b Department of Biological Sciences & Museum of Natural History, Auburn University, USA
  • c Institute of Tropical Biodiversity and Sustainable Development, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, Malaysia
  • d Myanmar Environment Sustainable Conservation, Myanmar
  • e Fauna and Flora International, No(35), 3rd Floor, Shan Gone Condo, Myay Ni Gone Market Street, Sanchaung Township, Myanmar

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The historical accuracy of building taxonomies is improved when they are based on phylogenetic inference (i.e., the resultant classifications are less apt to misrepresent evolutionary history). In fact, taxonomies inferred from statistically significant diagnostic morphological characters in the absence of phylogenetic considerations, can contain non-monophyletic lineages. This is especially true at the species level where small amounts of gene flow may not preclude the evolution of localized adaptions in different geographic areas while underpinning the paraphyletic nature of each population with respect to the other. We illustrate this point by examining genetic and morphological variation among three putatively allopatric populations of the granite-dwelling Bent-toed Gecko Cyrtodactylus aequalis from hilly regions in southeastern Myanmar. In the absence of molecular phylogenetic inference, a compelling argument for three morphologically diagnosable species could be marshaled. However, when basing the morphological analyses of geographic variation on a molecular phylogeny, there is a more compelling argument that only one species should be recognized. We are cognizant of the fact however, that when dealing with rare species or specimens for which no molecular data are possible, judicious morphological analyses are the only option—and the desired option given the current worldwide biodiversity crisis.

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