Madagascar, already a by-word for extraordinary biodiversity, has been shown to have 11 more species than previously thought.
A new study by Michel Milinkovitch, professor of genetics, evolution, and biophysics at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), reveals that the panther chameleon, which is only found in Madagascar, is is actually composed of eleven different species.
The results of their research appear in the latest issue of the Molecular Ecology journal.
Over two expeditions, the scientists collected a drop of blood from each of 324 individual chameleons and documented them through colour photographs.
The sequenced the DNA (mitochondrial and nuclear) of each of the specimens, analysing them according to the hypothesis that a chameleon’s dominant colour might be related to the geographic zone where it is found.
They found that the genetic material indicated strong genetic structure among geographically restricted lineages, revealing very low interbreeding among populations.
The mathematical analyses of the 324 colour photographs demonstrated that subtle colour patterns could predict assignment of chameleon individuals to their corresponding genetic lineage, confirming that many of the geographical populations might need to be considered separated species.
While Madagascar is blessed with exceptional biodiversity, that is under attack, mainly due to habitat loss for the animals.
The widespread destruction of forests for agriculture, firewood and charcoal production threaten the survival of 400 species of reptile, 300 species of amphibians, 300 species of birds, 15,000 species of plants and countless species of invertebrates.
Up to 90% of all living species found in Madagascar are found nowhere else on earth.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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