Scientists find new African gecko species

June 3, 2010 at 3:41 PM
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BERKELEY, Calif., June 3 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've identified new gecko species in the West African rain forest.

The University of California-Berkeley researchers said they discovered the gecko Hemidactylus fasciatus is actually four species distributed in forest patches across of the continent from the coast of Sierra Leone to the Congo.

The scientists -- former students Adam Leache and Matthew Fujita -- said the four distinct species appear to have evolved during the past 100,000 years due to the fragmentation of a belt of tropical rainforest.

The researchers said they used new DNA analysis techniques to distinguish the different species.

"We tended to find this gecko, Hemidactylus fasciatus, throughout our travels in West Africa," said Leache, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California-Davis. "Despite the fact that it is recognized as one species, using new methods we have established a high probability that it is composed of at least four species."

Leache and Fujita found sufficient genetic differences among the 50 geckos they collected from 10 different forest patches to identify four distinct species. The different species were found in different forest patches, suggesting the species divergence was driven by the isolation of gecko populations from one another after gaps developed in the rain forest.

Leache and Fujita, now a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, report their research in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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