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Resurrection of the Comoran fish scale gecko Geckolepis humbloti Vaillant, 1887 reveals a disjunct distribution caused by natural overseas dispersal


Fish scale geckos (Geckolepis) are taxonomically poorly resolved, mainly because of the difficulty of applying standard morphological characters to diagnose taxa. Three species, Geckolepis maculata, G. polylepis, and G. typica, are currently recognized from Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. Molecular studies suggested a number of operational taxonomical units within the G. maculata complex, but none of these has been formally described. The Comoran population was described as Geckolepis humbloti Vaillant 1887 but later synonymized. Prior to our study, no genetic data and little other information were available for this taxon. We revised the status of G. humbloti using molecular genetics, external morphology, and osteological characters retrieved from 3D skeletal models created using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). Our results demonstrate that G. humbloti represents a genetic lineage strongly distinct from all other Geckolepis species. It is furthermore distinguished by a combination of external morphological characters and probably by osteology. We therefore resurrect G. humbloti Vaillant, 1887 from synonymy with G. maculata. Remarkably, this lineage is not restricted to the Comoros: A specimen from Tsingy de Bemaraha in western Madagascar falls as a closely related sister lineage to all Comoran Geckolepis in our molecular phylogenetic analysis and is osteologically almost identical with a specimen from the type locality Grand Comoro. We therefore include it in G. humbloti. The phylogenetic topology and the intraspecific genetic divergences suggest that the Comoros were colonized naturally from western Madagascar by overseas dispersal. G. humbloti is not considered as threatened, but its presence is indicative of natural or near-natural habitats.

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For their participation and invaluable help in the field surveys, we are grateful to Johannes Berger, Boris Brückmann, Bastian Brenzinger, Maoulida ‘Kamal’ Badroudine, Hadidja Sinane, Sheikh Moussa, Hugh Doulton, Katie Green, Ishaka Said, Amelaid Houmadi, and other members of the staff of Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation’s project in the Comoros (, Michel Charpentier from the Naturalistes de Mayotte, and Danny Laybourne, Guillaume Viscardi, and the other members of the DAF Mayotte. We are also grateful to Ivan Ineich (MNHN Paris), for granting access to the herpetological collection. Thanks are also due to Cynthia Wang and Bernhard Ruthensteiner for their help with micro-CT scans, Ella Z. Lattenkamp for her assistance with measurements and meristics, and Michael Franzen for general support. Authorities at Moroni (Comoros) and Mamoudzou (Mayotte) are acknowledged for the collection and export permits. Finally, we thank Michael Balke, Munich, for providing lab infrastructure, the EMBL team for handling the GenBank entries, and the editor, two anonymous reviewers, and Gunther Köhler, Frankfurt, for their helpful comments, which greatly improved this paper.

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Correspondence to Oliver Hawlitschek.

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The research was financially supported by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (project 0925157) to FG and OH (, by DAAD grant D/09/49634 to OH (, and the “Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft” DFG GL 314/1 to FG and BA2152/7-1 to Michael Balke ( The “Freunde der Zoologischen Staatssammlung München” ( and the EES funding program of the University of Munich ( provided additional financial support.

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All animal handling was conducted according to guidelines approved by an ethics committee.

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A 1

Table with individual morphological data and locality records for all specimens studied. (XLSX 15 kb)

A 2

Interactive 3D models of the skulls of two scanned individuals of Geckolepis humbloti. ZSM 80/2010, collected from the type locality, Grand Comoro. ZSM 81/2006, collected from the Tsingy de Bemaraha. For full body models, see Appendix A3. Models can be viewed in Adobe Reader 9 or above, or Adobe Acrobat Pro X or above. Click the image to activate it. (PDF 15033 kb)

A 3

Interactive 3D models of the full skeletons of two scanned individuals of Geckolepis humbloti. ZSM 80/2010 (Grand Comoro) and ZSM 81/2006 (Tsingy de Bemaraha, western Madagascar. For skull models, see Appendix A2. Models can be viewed in Adobe Reader 9 or above, or Adobe Acrobat Pro X or above. Click the image to activate it. (PDF 17238 kb)

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Hawlitschek, O., Scherz, M.D., Straube, N. et al. Resurrection of the Comoran fish scale gecko Geckolepis humbloti Vaillant, 1887 reveals a disjunct distribution caused by natural overseas dispersal. Org Divers Evol 16, 289–298 (2016).

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