Diversity patterns and evolutionary history of Arabian squamates

Jiří Šmíd*, Roberto Sindaco, Mohammed Shobrak, Salem Busais, Karin Tamar, Tatiana Aghová, Marc Simó-Riudalbas, Pedro Tarroso, Philippe Geniez, Pierre André Crochet, Johannes Els, Bernat Burriel-Carranza, Héctor Tejero-Cicuéndez, Salvador Carranza

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: Deserts are generally perceived as areas of low diversity, and hence receive little attention from researchers and conservationists. Squamates are the dominant group of vertebrates in arid regions, and as such represent an ideal model to study biodiversity patterns in these areas. We examine spatial patterns of diversity, evolutionary history and endemism of terrestrial squamates of the Arabian Peninsula and test hypotheses on the role of topography and history of isolation so as to identify possible environmental drivers of diversification. Location: The Arabian Peninsula. Taxon: Squamate reptiles (Squamata; lizards and snakes). Methods: We generated distribution maps for all Arabian squamate species (including yet undescribed) and reconstructed their phylogenetic relationships using existing and newly produced genetic data for nearly all the species. We assessed patterns of the distribution of species richness, phylogenetic diversity and phylogenetic endemism across the peninsula to identify areas that could be considered evolutionary or endemicity hotspots for squamates. We evaluated community turnover across the peninsula and assessed the possible environmental drivers affecting the diversity of Arabian squamates in a regression framework. Results: The main hotspots of Arabian squamate diversity are mostly along the mountains that rim the peninsula while the most arid, central regions support a low diversity of species. The distribution of the phylogenetic diversity mirrors that of the species richness. Phylogenetic endemism is also highest in the mountains, especially when only endemic species are analysed. The deserts of northern Arabia are poor in terms of species richness and they show low connectivity to the peninsular communities. Topographic heterogeneity is the strongest predictor for Arabian squamates, followed by elevation. There is no correlation between richness and temperature. Main conclusions: The mountains of Arabia support rich and unique squamate communities that are dominated by local radiations of closely related and narrow-ranging species. In particular, the Asir Mountains of SW Arabia, Dhofar Province of Oman and the Hajar Mountains of northern Oman and UAE show unprecedented levels of squamate endemism and phylogenetic endemism. While many generalist species range across Arabia, a low number of species is shared between the peninsula and mainland Asia, indicating an effective isolation of the Arabian fauna. Squamate richness is highest in heterogeneous, topographically complex habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1183-1199
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Abdelaziz Al Gethami
Abu Dhabi
Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs
Pritpal Soorae (Environment Agency
Saudi Wildlife Authority
Family Process Institute
Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades
University of Western Australia
Grantová Agentura České Republiky18–15286Y
Fundação para a Ciência e a TecnologiaDL57/2016/CP1440/CT0008
Ministerio de Economía y CompetitividadBES‐2016‐078341, BES‐2013‐064248
Ministerstvo KulturyDKRVO 2019–2023/6, 00023272, PGC2018‐098290‐B‐I00
Taif UniversityTURSP‐2020/06
European Regional Development FundFPU18/04742
Agencia Estatal de Investigación


    • Middle East
    • Squamata
    • deserts
    • diversification
    • phylogenetic diversity
    • phylogenetic endemism
    • reptiles


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