Cryptic speciation in Malagasy carpet chameleons

 A multi-method approach reveals three species nested within the morphologically conservative chameleon Furcifer lateralis

The chameleon Furcifer major, found in southern Madagascar. Photo: Antonia Florio

Furcifer lateralis is a widespread chameleon species that is endemic to Madagascar and exported in high numbers in the pet trade. Cryptic speciation was considered likely in this group because the species has a vast distribution, occupies diverse habitats, and displays subtle differences in morphology. Because species delimitation can be challenging in recently diverged groups, a multi-method approach was employed to assess species boundaries. Results from phylogenetic trees, morphometric analysis, and ecological niche modeling provide consistent evidence that three cryptic species are nested within the F. lateralis complex. Based on these results, the subspecies F. lateralis major is elevated to species rank and a new species (Furcifer viridis) is described. The results of this study provide preliminary evidence that at least two models of speciation are driving speciation in this group.
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