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2.  Discovery of skin alkaloids in a miniaturized eleutherodactylid frog from Cuba 
Biology Letters  2010;7(3):414-418.
Four phylogenetically independent lineages of frogs are currently known to sequester lipid-soluble skin alkaloids for which a dietary source has been demonstrated. We report here a remarkable fifth such instance, in Eleutherodactylus iberia and Eleutherodactylus orientalis, two species of miniaturized frogs of the family Eleutherodactylidae from Cuba. Six pumiliotoxins and two indolizidines were found in E. iberia, one of the smallest frogs in the world and characterized by a contrasting colour pattern for which we hypothesize an aposematic function. Analyses of stomach content indicated a numerical prevalence of mites with an important proportion of oribatids—a group of arthropods known to contain one of the pumiliotoxins detected in E. iberia. This suggests that miniaturization and specialization to small prey may have favoured the acquisition of dietary skin alkaloids in these amphibians.
PMCID: PMC3097843  PMID: 21047848
amphibia; Eleutherodactylidae; Eleutherodactylus iberia; Eleutherodactylus orientalis; Cuba; pumiliotoxins
3.  Eastward from Africa: palaeocurrent-mediated chameleon dispersal to the Seychelles islands 
Biology Letters  2010;7(2):225-228.
Madagascar and the Seychelles are Gondwanan remnants currently isolated in the Indian Ocean. In the Late Cretaceous, these islands were joined with India to form the Indigascar landmass, which itself then split into its three component parts around the start of the Tertiary. This history is reflected in the biota of the Seychelles, which appears to contain examples of both vicariance- and dispersal-mediated divergence from Malagasy or Indian sister taxa. One lineage for which this has been assumed but never thoroughly tested is the Seychellean tiger chameleon, a species assigned to the otherwise Madagascar-endemic genus Calumma. We present a multi-locus phylogenetic study of chameleons, and find that the Seychellean species is actually the sister taxon of a southern African clade and requires accomodation in its own genus as Archaius tigris. Divergence dating and biogeographic analyses indicate an origin by transoceanic dispersal from Africa to the Seychelles in the Eocene–Oligocene, providing, to our knowledge, the first such well-documented example and supporting novel palaeocurrent reconstructions.
PMCID: PMC3061160  PMID: 20826471
biogeography; overseas dispersal; Indian Ocean; Chamaeleonidae; Archaius
4.  Blindsnake evolutionary tree reveals long history on Gondwana 
Biology Letters  2010;6(4):558-561.
Worm-like snakes (scolecophidians) are small, burrowing species with reduced vision. Although largely neglected in vertebrate research, knowledge of their biogeographical history is crucial for evaluating hypotheses of snake origins. We constructed a molecular dataset for scolecophidians with detailed sampling within the largest family, Typhlopidae (blindsnakes). Our results demonstrate that scolecophidians have had a long Gondwanan history, and that their initial diversification followed a vicariant event: the separation of East and West Gondwana approximately 150 Ma. We find that the earliest blindsnake lineages, representing two new families described here, were distributed on the palaeolandmass of India+Madagascar named here as Indigascar. Their later evolution out of Indigascar involved vicariance and several oceanic dispersal events, including a westward transatlantic one, unexpected for burrowing animals. The exceptional diversification of scolecophidians in the Cenozoic was probably linked to a parallel radiation of prey (ants and termites) as well as increased isolation of populations facilitated by their fossorial habits.
PMCID: PMC2936224  PMID: 20356885
biogeography; squamates; snakes; dispersal; vicariance
5.  Identifying contact zone hotspots of passerine birds in the Palaearctic region 
Biology Letters  2005;1(1):21-23.
Birds are known to be a group rich in pairs of closely related species that have parapatric or allopatric distributions with relatively narrow contact zones. Here we analyse the geographical distribution of these contact zones for parapatric species pairs of passerine birds of the Palaearctic region. Their contact zones are located mainly in southwestern, northern and central–southern Asia, and in northwestern Africa, with a hotspot in the Middle East. A mid-domain effect null model, where contact zone hotspots are a neutral correlate of continental geometry, had a low explanatory power of 3.8%; the observed distribution of contact zones was not sufficiently predicted. Hypotheses involving range contractions and secondary contact in areas of high topographic and habitat diversity may offer more convincing explanations and offer promising perspectives for future studies.
PMCID: PMC1629058  PMID: 17148118
Passeriformes; contact zone; mid-domain effect; parapatry; Palaearctic

Results 1-5 (5)