The subfamily Uromastycinae within the Agamidae is comprised of 18 species: three within the genus Saara and 15 within Uromastyx. Uromastyx is distributed in the desert areas of North Africa and across the Arabian Peninsula towards Iran. The systematics of this genus has been previously revised, although incomplete taxonomic sampling or weakly supported topologies resulted in inconclusive relationships. Biogeographic assessments of Uromastycinae mostly agree on the direction of dispersal from Asia to Africa, although the timeframe of the cladogenesis events has never been fully explored. In this study, we analysed 129 Uromastyx specimens from across the entire distribution range of the genus. We included all but one of the recognized taxa of the genus and sequenced them for three mitochondrial and three nuclear markers. This enabled us to obtain a comprehensive multilocus time-calibrated phylogeny of the genus, using the concatenated data and species trees. We also applied coalescent-based species delimitation methods, phylogenetic network analyses and model-testing approaches to biogeographic inferences. Our results revealed Uromastyx as a monophyletic genus comprised of five groups and 14 independently evolving lineages, corresponding to the 14 currently recognized species sampled. The onset of Uromastyx diversification is estimated to have occurred in south-west Asia during the Middle Miocene with a later radiation in North Africa. During its Saharo-Arabian colonization, Uromastyx underwent multiple vicariance and dispersal events, hypothesized to be derived from tectonic movements and habitat fragmentation due to the active continental separation of Arabia from Africa and the expansion and contraction of arid areas in the region.
- multilocus phylogeny