Origin and distribution of desert ants across the Gibraltar Straits

Irene Villalta, Fernando Amor, Juan A. Galarza, Simon Dupont, Patrocinio Ortega, Abraham Hefetz, Abdallah Dahbi, Xim Cerdá, Raphaël Boulay*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The creation of geographic barriers has long been suspected to contribute to the formation of new species. We investigated the phylogeography of desert ants in the western Mediterranean basin in order to elucidate their mode of diversification. These insects which have a low dispersal capacity are recently becoming important model systems in evolutionary studies. We conducted an extensive sampling of species belonging to the Cataglyphis albicans group in the Iberian Peninsula (IP) and the northern Morocco (North Africa; NA). We then combined genetic, chemical and morphological analyses. The results suggest the existence of at least three and five clades in the IP and NA, respectively, whose delineation partially encompass current taxonomic classification. The three Iberian clades are monophyletic, but their origin in NA is uncertain (79% and 22% for Bayesian and Maximum Likelihood support, respectively). The estimation of divergence time suggests that a speciation process was initiated after the last reopening of the Gibraltar Straits ≈5.33 Ma. In the IP, the clades are parapatric and their formation may have been triggered by the fragmentation of a large population during the Pleistocene due to extended periods of glaciation. This scenario is supported by demographic analyses pointing at a recent expansion of Iberian populations that contrasts with the progressive contraction of the NA clades. Niche modeling reveals that this area, governed by favorable climatic conditions for desert ants, has recently increased in the IP and decreased in NA. Altogether, our data points at geoclimatic events as major determinants of species formation in desert ants, reinforcing the role of allopatric speciation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-134
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Jan 2018


FundersFunder number
Consejería de Economía y Conocimiento
Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y DeporteSAB2010-0088
Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad
Centre National de la Recherche ScientifiqueP12-RNM-2705
European Regional Development FundCGL2012-36181, CGL2015-65807
Junta de Andalucía


    • Ants
    • Cataglyphis
    • Cuticular hydrocarbons
    • Genital traits
    • Glaciations
    • Phylogeography
    • Thermophily


    Dive into the research topics of 'Origin and distribution of desert ants across the Gibraltar Straits'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this