The collared treerunner is more than a single species

Nov 25, 2013
This image shows the new species Plica caribeana. Credit: John C. Murphy

The lowland tropics were once though filled with widespread species, while moderate and higher elevations were thought to contain species with more restricted distributions. That idea is turning out to be partially incorrect. Widespread species now appear to be the exception, instead of the rule. A new study describes four species once considered to be the collared treerunner, a lizard known to the scientific community as Plica plica. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

The collared treerunner was originally described in 1758 and has been the subject of many biological, ecological, and behavioral studies in recent years. A new ZooKeys paper by John C. Murphy, Field Museum (Chicago) and Michael J. Jowers, Estación Biológica de Doñana (Sevilla, Spain) describe four new formerly thought to be one.

"The collard treerunner was considered a single species ranging from Trinidad and Tobago and northern Venezuela southward into the Amazon Basin, south of the Amazon River." Murphy said. " The Treerunners ancestor diverged about 25-30 million years ago, and throughout this time the South American continent has undergone dramatic remodeling, including the rise of the Andes, rising and falling sea levels, and changing climates that isolated populations for long periods of time, allowing them to become . Treerunners live on vertical surfaces, such as tree trunks, rock walls, and even buildings and they eat a variety of insects.

The new paper focuses on populations of this lizard in northern South America, but in an overall survey the authors examined specimens from across the Amazon basin and suspect there may be at least another five to seven undescribed species in what is currently considered the collared treerunner. The treerunners from Trinidad and northern Venezuela were 4.5% genetically different from those in southern Venezuela, and more than 5% different from those in Brazil. For comparison purposes humans and chimpanzees are less than 2% genetically different.

This image shows the new species Plica rayi, a male in breeding coloration. Credit: Zelimir Cernelic

While some species may form by genetic divergence without showing any morphological differences from their ancestor, other often show subtle or obvious morphological differences that may be quite easy to detect. The latter is the case with the collard treerunners.

Some had as few as 92 scales around the body while others had 202 scales around the body. Some adult males have yellow heads while other have red heads, some have distinctive patterns of spots while others have transverse bands.

Unraveling cryptic species is important for a more complete understanding of biodiversity, evolution, and for long term conservation efforts.

The take home message here is that there are many more species of squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) in the world than previously thought, and it is likely many species have and will disappeared before science is even aware of them. Cutting forests and draining swamps undoubtedly causes extinctions of the species depending upon those habitats. While none of the treerunners described in this paper are likely to be threatened with extinction this discovery and many other similar recent discoveries suggest our knowledge of biodiversity is lacking.

Explore further: Three new wafer trapdoor spiders from Brazil

More information: Murphy JC, Jowers MJ (2013) Treerunners, cryptic lizards of the Plica plica group (Squamata, Sauria, Tropiduridae) of northern South America. ZooKeys 355: 49. DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.355.5868

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Three new wafer trapdoor spiders from Brazil

Nov 20, 2013

Scientists discover three new gorgeous species of the wafer trapdoor genus Fufius – F. minusculus, F. jalapensis, and F. candango. The discovery of the three new species, published in the open access journal ...

Tasmania home to first alpine sword-sedge

Nov 15, 2013

Researchers from the University of New England (Australia) and the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney (Australia), have discovered a high-altitude species of sedge from south-western Tasmania. ...

Recommended for you

Vietnam's taste for cat leaves pets in peril

2 hours ago

The enduring popularity of "little tiger" as a snack to accompany a beer in Vietnam means that cat owners live in constant fear of animal snatchers, despite an official ban.

New species of mayfly discovered in India

4 hours ago

Scientists have discovered a new species of mayfly in the southern Western Ghats, a mountain range along the west coast of India. In fact, this is the first time that any mayfly belonging to the genus Labiobaetis has be ...

Rising temperatures can be hard on dogs

Jul 25, 2014

The "dog days of summer" are here, but don't let the phrase fool you. This hot time of year can be dangerous for your pup, says a Kansas State University veterinarian.

User comments : 0