Geneticists reveal Madagascar's reptile diversity

Genetic barcoding study identifies more than 40 new species

This new species of snake (Madagascarophis sp.) Is outwardly indistinguishable from its closest relatives, but genetically very different. © Frank Glaw
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An international team of researchers compared the gene sequences of around 250 reptile species from various parts of Madagascar, identifying more than 40 new species of snakes, geckos and other lizards. So far, almost 400 species of reptile are known from this East African island, which is famous for its unique flora and fauna. For comparison: In Germany there are just 13 native reptile species.

Barcodes in the supermarket have long been a familiar image. The small barcode makes it possible to quickly and clearly identify goods. A similar idea is pursued by DNA barcoding for animals. Certain gene segments, so-called barcodes, make it possible to reliably differentiate most animal species, even if they are confusingly similar.

Largest barcoding study to date on reptiles

The scientists from Brussels, Munich and Braunschweig have now presented in the journal "PLoS ONE" the results of the largest ever barcoding study on reptiles. "The large number of newly identified species has taken us by surprise, especially since the reptiles of Madagascar have been intensively studied over the last 20 years, " says Zoltán T. Nagy, lead author of the study, from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels.

Also this nocturnal tail-tailed gecko (Uroplatus sp.) Does not have a scientific name yet. © Frank Glaw

Madagascar as a biodiversity hotspot

"The new results once again underline Madagascar's outstanding importance as an important center of global biodiversity", adds its colleague Gontran Sonet from the same institute. However, the previously only genetically identified species would have to be examined more closely for their outer distinguishing features before they can be scientifically described, says Frank Glaw from the Zoological State Collection in Munich. For some years now, there have also been great barcoding projects with the Bavarian and from May also all-German wildlife.

The database of genetic barcodes comprises 110 of the 140 Malagasy reptile species whose trade is specifically controlled by the CITES. However, according to the researchers, even today protected animals from Madagascar are smuggled out of the country under false names. For Z llner, it is often not possible to check the names of species for their correctness. display

Genetic barcodes expose label fraud

By the genetic barcodes, however, such a label fraud could be detected relatively easily in the future, Mig explains Miguel Vences from the Technical University of Braunschweig. The molecular identification of protected species therefore opens new avenues for better trafficking in illegal wildlife trade. (PLoS ONE, 2012)

(Staatliche Naturwissenschaftliche Sammlungen Bayerns, 03.04.2012 - DLO)