The snake Psammophis schokari has a widespread distribution across North Africa, and in Morocco/Western Sahara is represented by three different morphotypes: striped, unicoloured and the Western-Sahara morph. ND4 mitochondrial DNA sequences from 28 specimens comprising 20 P. shokari, two P. aegyptius, one P. elegans, two P. sibilans, one P. condanarus and two outgroups were analysed. Within P. schokari we identified four genetic lineages (Morocco/Western Sahara, Mauritania, Algeria and Israel) with a genetic divergence ranging from 4–5%, less than that typically found between different species. Surprisingly, Moroccan/Western Sahara and Algerian lineages are the most divergent ones. This geographic substructuring may be due to severe climate changes in the Sahara desert between the Miocene and Pleistocene associated with expansion/contraction phases of this desert. Psammophis aegyptius is the sister-taxon of Psammophis schokari with a high level of genetic divergence between them (10.7%) supporting the recognition of P. aegyptius as a distinct species. The three Moroccan/Western Sahara colour morphotypes form one genetic lineage, indicating that colour pattern does not reflect a different phylogenetic history, and is probably an ecological adaptation to the local environment.
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Vol. 42 • No. 1