Authors: M. F. Medina, A. M. Bauer, W. R. Branch, A. Schmitz, W. Conradie, Z. T. Nagy, T. J. Hibbitts, R. Ernst, D. M. Portik, S. V. Nielsen, T. J. Colston, C. Kusamba, M. Behanganam, M.-O. Rödel, E. Greenbaum

African snake-eyed skinks are relatively small lizards of the genera Panaspis and Afroablepharus. Species allocation of these genera frequently changed during the 20th century based on morphology, ecology, and biogeography. Members of these genera occur primarily in savanna habitats throughout sub-Saharan Africa and include species whose highly conserved morphology poses challenges for taxonomic studies. We sequenced two mitochondrial (16S and cyt b) and two nuclear genes (PDC and RAG1) from 76 Panaspis and Afroablepharus samples from across eastern, central, and southern Africa. Concatenated gene-tree and divergence-dating analyses were conducted to infer phylogenies and biogeographic patterns. Molecular data sets revealed several cryptic lineages, with most radiations occurring during the mid-Miocene to Pliocene. We infer that rifting processes (including the formation of the East African Rift System) and climatic oscillations contributed to the expansion and contraction of savannas, and caused cladogenesis in snake-eyed skinks. Species in Panaspis and Afroablepharus used in this study, including type species for both genera, formed a monophyletic group. As a result, the latter genus should be synonymized with the former, which has priority. Conservatively, we continue to include the West African species P. breviceps and P. togoensis within an expanded Panaspis, but note that they occur in relatively divergent clades, and their taxonomic status may change with improved taxon sampling. Divergence estimates and cryptic speciation patterns of snake-eyed skinks were consistent with previous studies of other savanna vertebrate lineages from the same areas examined in this study.

Suggested Citation

Maria F. Medina, Aaron M. Bauer, William R. Branch, Andreas Schmitz, Werner Conradie, Zoltán T. Nagy, Toby J. Hibbitts, Raffael Ernst, Daniel M. Portik, Stuart V. Nielsen, Timothy J. Colston, Chifundera Kusamba, Mathias Behangana, Mark-Oliver Rödel, Eli Greenbaum, Molecular phylogeny of Panaspis and Afroablepharus skinks (Squamata: Scincidae) in the savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Volume 100, July 2016, Pages 409-423,