Using DNA, scientists have identified new spieces of lizards living in the Mediterranean Area

Bratislava, 21 June 2018: As part of an international team, Comenius University scientists have managed to identify four different species of lizard (Kotschy's gecko) which until now had been thought to constitute one species. The results of this research will have an impact on the species variety and evolutionary biogeography of the Mediterranean and the specification of conservation priorities. The newly discovered species are endemic and have a small area of occurrence; therefore, they are threatened by human activity.

21. 06. 2018 13.30 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

The Eastern Mediterranean is well known for its high rate of species diversity and endemism, i.e., its wealth of organisms, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Comenius University scientists, alongside others in an international team including members from Greece, Turkey, Israel, Italy, Russia, the United States, and the Czech Republic, have managed to identify hidden evolutionary lines (independent species) within one type of lizard which until now was thought to constitute one species.

“It is a species known as Mediodactylus kotschyi, or Kotschy's gecko. Earlier morphological studies indicated a high level of intra-species variability with a large number (thirty) identified subspecies. In addition to this, our study involved a rather difficult taxonomic revision, which led to the identification of four new species,” said Dr Daniel Jablonski, who is a member of the research team from the Department of Zoology at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Comenius University.

The combination of DNA data, evolutionary and genetic analyses, and taxonomic revision over a large area of the Eastern Mediterranean showed that there are four species of lizard, of which two are endemic and live on a just a few islands in the Aegean Sea. The new species are Mediodactylus orientalis (Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, southern Turkey, and the southeastern Aegean area), Mediodactylus danilewskii (the Black Sea and southwestern Turkey), Mediodactylus bartoni (Crete), and Mediodactylus oertzeni (Rhodes and Karpathos). The original species of Mediodactylus kotschyi can thus be found in the Balkans, most of the Aegean area, and in Italy.

“The distributional model of these species indicates that at least some of them were most likely transported to particular places, such as the Crimean peninsula and Italy, by man sometime during antiquity. According to the studied data, the evolutionary diversification of this species started some fifteen million years ago and fits into the biogeographical development of the Mediterranean. All of these newly identified species are found in Europe, this enriching the list of known vertebrates with four new additions,” said the young Comenius University researcher in assessing the importance of the research.

According to him, the research results will offer a new perspective on the species diversification of the Mediterranean and will have an impact on future studies concerning the formation of its fauna and the specification of conservation priorities, given that the newly discovered endemic island species are prone to threats arising from human activity.

“The significance of the scientific work of Dr Daniel Jablonski and Dr David Jandzík from the Department of Zoology with an international team is proven by its publication in the prestigious journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. The identification of independent endemic species of Kotschy’s gecko changes our understanding of the evolutionary biogeography  of the Mediterranean and is a significant contribution to focusing conservation priorities in a way so that they protect the diversity of animal species on our planet,” emphasized Comenius University Rector, Professor Karol Mičieta.