The importance of genetic data in biodiversity conservation is well established, and knowledge of standing genetic variation within and between populations is important for designing conservation strategies. We investigated partitioning of genetic diversity in an endemic lizard (Leiocephalus psammodromus) distributed in the Turks and Caicos archipelago using mtDNA and AFLP data from 259 individuals sampled across 13 islands. Current taxonomy identifies six or more subspecies of L. psammodromus within the archipelago, several of which have undergone recent drastic reductions in range due to extirpation. However, our results indicate the presence of two independent lineages, one on each of the Turks and Caicos banks, and a third sympatric cryptic lineage on both banks. These lineages do not correspond to current taxonomy and alter our understanding of diversity and conservation of this species. Gross morphological data (mass and snout-vent length) indicate some variation in female size among lineages, indicating the possibility of cryptic morphological variation. Instead of initiating separate conservation measures for nominate subspecies, we recommend a more thorough investigation of the morphology and genetics of this group and a more inclusive conservation program. Our surprising results indicate that other endemic squamates in the Bahamas Archipelago might also exhibit sympatric cryptic diversity that does not correspond to current taxonomic understanding and could have significant impacts on our approach to conservation in this region.
- Leiocephalus psammodromus
- Turks and Caicos Islands
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics