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Dwarf crocodiles split into three species
Date:12/12/2008

l Africa, but over-hunting to supply commercial 'bushmeat' markets may threaten many populations with extinction. Dwarf crocodiles are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

In the laboratory, the researchers sequenced more than 4,000 base pairs of both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from as many as 82 individuals sampled across Central and West Africa. The results confirmed species-level separations between three different groups of dwarf crocodiles. Crocodiles from the Congo Basin appear to be the oldest of the three species, with some morphological characteristics placing them closer to a shared ancestor of the Nile crocodile. The dwarf crocodiles of the Ogoou and West Africa, on the other hand, are more recently evolved and are more closely related to each other than either is to the Congo Basin species.

"These species have been on their own evolutionary trajectory for a long time," says George Amato, Director of the Sackler Institute. "They are diagnostically distinctevery individual in one species has characteristics that are not found in the other species, and the number of diagnostic characteristics is large."

The new taxonomic discovery has implications for the conservation strategy of African dwarf crocodiles. "Without these genetic results, the level of biodiversity was cryptic, hidden," Amato continues. "Accurate taxonomy is necessary for conservation management of each species, and now we can calculate subsistence hunting levels that are manageable."


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Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips
kphillips@amnh.org
212-496-3419
American Museum of Natural History
Source:Eurekalert  

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