Large-scale phylogeny of chameleons suggests African origins and Eocene diversification

New data based on >90% of described chameleon taxa reveals African origin!

Bradypodion damaranum Photo: Krystal A. Tolley

 Chameleons are an excellent example of how organisms can be distributed across the globe through oceanic dispersal because they are primarily found in Africa and Madagascar, but their age post-dates the last contact between these two landmasses. Using a genetic analysis including 90% of all chameleons, we show that the family originated in Africa, with two separate oceanic dispersals to Madagascar during the Paleocene (65 million years ago) and the Oligocene (48 million years ago), when prevailing oceanic currents promoted eastward dispersal. Thus, even small organisms like chameleons can populate the globe through long distance dispersal over formidable barriers.

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Work area: 
Reptiles
Chameleon
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