Scientists from the University of Geneva found the panther chameleon, a species indigenous to Madagascar is in fact 11 species.
Hiding in plain sight until now, the panther chameleons display an intriguing and spectacular color variety, as opposed to other chameleon species that have a comparably limited range of color hues.
For instance, panther chameleons shift from red to green to orange to yellow, depending on the geographical location in Madagascar. Other species present a restricted intra-specific coloration.
Madagascar, home of the panther chameleons boasts extraordinary biodiversity. Yet, its luxurious panel of biodiversity has been under great threat during the past few decades, mostly due to the island’s forests dwindling under the threat of deforestation.
The research team from the University of Geneva, led by Michel Milinkovitch, in collaboration with Madagascar scientists ventured in two expeditions from the east to the west of Madagascar to collect blood samples from 324 panther chameleons.
With the unusual color variation and the photos documenting each of the individual the blood was collected from, in connection with exact geographical location, the team discovered that the colour variations are in fact telling of 11 different species of chameleons that have so far been gathered under the panther chameleon umbrella.
The subtle color patterns are thoroughly efficient in predicting the assignment of each chameleon individual to their corresponding genetic lineage.
“Given the charismatic nature of chameleons, besides a better understanding of the genetic basis of color variation in chameleons, the study will help to continue its difficult enterprise: raising awareness for the staggering but fragile biodiversity hosted by Madagascar,”
Michel Milinkovitch, professor of genetics, evolution, and biophysics at the University of Geneva led the team in analyzing the DNA sequences from each blood sample collected, following how the dominant coloring is related to the specific geographic location where the chameleon was found.
The DNA sequences indicated that there is a strong genetic structure among lineages that are geographically-restricted. This is relevant for the breeding patterns of the chameleon populations. In this case it resulted that the 11 species discovered present low interbreeding.
With this new study it stands that the 11 chameleon species require further investigation as each represent a piece of Madagascar biodiversity.
Further studying and awareness of the surprises the population are probably still hiding could help Madagascar scientists, as well as locals to prevent further damage to biodiversity during harvest.
The findings feature in the journal Molecular Ecology.
Image Source: thevariationist.com