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Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA survey of Zootoca vivipara across the eastern Italian Alps: evolutionary relationships, historical demography and conservation implications.

Abstract : The European common lizard Zootoca vivipara exhibits reproductive bimodality, with populations being either viviparous or oviparous. In the central-eastern Italian Alps oviparous populations (Z. v. carniolica) and viviparous populations (Z. v. vivipara) partly overlap geographically. Studying the evolutionary relationship between these taxa presents an interesting opportunity to gain insight into the evolution of this trait. We aim to: i) test whether Z. v. carniolica, which is endangered, constitutes an ESU (Evolutionary Significant Unity); ii) infer mtDNA divergence time between the Z. v. carniolica clade and all the other Z. vivipara subspecies with the aid of an external calibration point; and iii) describe the phylogeographical and demographic scenarios in the area. To do so we sequenced about 200 individuals for mitochondrial variation; 64 of them were also analysed for three nuclear genes. Furthermore, we analysed the same nuclear markers in 17 individuals from the other oviparous subspecies Z. v. louislantzi and 11 individuals of Z. v. vivipara from widespread geographical origins. The mtDNA and nDNA loci that we examined supported the monophyly of Z. v. carniolica. The mtDNA-based estimate of divergence time between Z. v. carniolica and all the other subspecies indicated a separation at 4.5 Mya (95% CI 6.1-2.6), with about 5% of sequence divergence. Considering that Z. v. carniolica harbours higher genetic diversity, while Z. v. vivipara from central-eastern Alps shows a signature of recent population and spatial expansion, we argue that Z. v. carniolica represents a distinct evolutionary unit, with a presumably long-term evolutionary history of separation. Z. v. carniolica populations, occurring at higher latitudes and altitudes than insofar supposed, live in peat bogs, a seriously threatened habitat: taking into account also its evolutionary distinctness, specific conservation measures should be considered.
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Luca Cornetti, Michele Menegon, Giovanni Giovine, Benoit Heulin, Cristiano Vernesi. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA survey of Zootoca vivipara across the eastern Italian Alps: evolutionary relationships, historical demography and conservation implications.. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2014, 9 (1), pp.e85912. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0085912⟩. ⟨hal-00976124⟩

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