Relict Species pp 119-143 | Cite as

Relict Populations and Endemic Clades in Palearctic Reptiles: Evolutionary History and Implications for Conservation

  • Ulrich Joger
  • Uwe Fritz
  • Daniela Guicking
  • Svetlana Kalyabina-Hauf
  • Zoltan T. Nagy
  • Michael Wink
Conference paper


The phylogeographic history of eight species complexes of West Palearctic reptiles was reconstructed using mitochondrial and nuclear markers. Cryptic endemic taxa were detected in the Southern European peninsulas (Iberia, Southern Italy/Sicily, and Greece) as well as in North Africa, Anatolia, Iran, and the Caucasus. These endemics are mainly of Tertiary or early Pleistocene age. Only part of them can be categorized as relicts of a former, more widely distributed taxon, having survived in ice age refugia; others have probably always remained in a restricted area, close to their origin.

Typical Pleistocene relict populations are phylogenetically related to larger conspecific populations elsewhere. They may be restricted to mountain habitats like Vipera berus in the Alps and in Greek mountains, or to islands like Lacerta bilineata on Cres and Natrix tessellata in Crete.

Holocene relict populations stem from a postPleistocene range expansion (usually in Southeast-Northwest direction). They reached their largest distribution during the Holocene climatic optimum and were later restricted to small areas in the climatically most favorable regions. Examples are N. tessellata, Zamenis longissimus, L. bilineata, L. viridis, and Emys orbicularis in Germany. These populations are only poorly differentiated genetically; hence the risk of losing genetic diversity is not an appropriate argument for their protection. They may react to global warming by a range expansion.

Southern European, North African, and Middle Eastern relicts may, on the contrary, be threatened by global warming. These populations are in need of more studies, and should be brought to the attention of national and international conservation agencies.


Northern Territory Glacial Refuge Haplotype Group Carpathian Basin Relict Population 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We like to thank many colleagues - too numerous to mention individually - who provided tissues from different parts of Europe and non-European parts of distribution ranges. Robin Lawson helped with sequencing Natrix spp, Nik Stümpel and Alexander Zinenko sequenced additional Vipera samples and Toni Amann did initial work on the Lacerta viridis complex. Our work was financed with grants provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG Jo-134/7, Jo-134/9 and Wi-319/18).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulrich Joger
    • 1
  • Uwe Fritz
    • 2
  • Daniela Guicking
    • 3
  • Svetlana Kalyabina-Hauf
    • 4
  • Zoltan T. Nagy
    • 5
  • Michael Wink
    • 4
  1. 1.Staatliches Naturhistorisches MuseumBraunschweigGermany
  2. 2.Museum für TierkundeNatural History State CollectionDresdenGermany
  3. 3.Universität Kassel, FB1, Systematik und Morphologie der PflanzenKasselGermany
  4. 4.Institut für Pharmazie und molekulare BiotechnologieUniversität HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  5. 5.Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, JEMUBrusselsBelgium

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