Phylogeny and biogeography of Arabian populations of the Persian Horned Viper Pseudocerastes persicus (Duméril, Bibron & Duméril, 1854)

The Persian Horned Viper (Pseudocerastes persicus) is distributed from northeast Iraq through the Iranian Plateau to western Pakistan with isolated populations in the Hajar Mountains of south-eastern Arabia. Like the other members of the genus Pseudocerastes, P. persicus is a sit-and-wait ambush feeder with low vagility, a characteristic that often results in high levels of population differentiation. In order to clarify the level of genetic variability, phylogenetic relationships, and biogeography of the Arabian populations of P. persicus we sequenced 597 base pairs of the mitochondrial cytochrome b of four individuals from the Hajar Mountains in south-eastern Arabia and inferred their phylogenetic relationships including 10 samples of P. persicus from Iran and Pakistan, four P. urarachnoides and one P. fieldi downloaded from GenBank. The four Arabian samples are genetically very similar in the gene fragment analysed and are phylogenetically very closely related to populations of P. persicus from coastal south Iran. Biogeographically, it appears that colonisation of the Hajar Mountains by P. persicus took place from Iran very recently, most probably during the last glaciation, when most of the Persian Gulf was above sea level and did not represent a barrier for dispersal.