Madagascar is rich in biodiversity, but many of the species including the panther chameleon are being threatened by devastating deforestation in the region.
The discovery of the diversity among the colorful chameleons highlights the need to protect the creatures in the region.
A research team have collected photographs and drops of blood from 324 individual chameleons over the course of two expeditions.
The research team actually wanted to prove a hypothesis which says that variation in color changes in chameleons were linked to their geographic location of origin, but they have discovered something else.
To back this hypothesis they have collected the DNA samples of the chameleons.
The researchers then sequenced the DNA of each individual sample.
The team found that a strong genetic structure among geographically restricted lineages, that is there were very low rates of inbreeding within the populations.
A mathematical analysis of the 324 color photographs revealed that chameleons colors correspond with genetic lineage, this suggest that there are different species.
Researchers said, “This case of hidden speciation confirms a major characteristic of Madagascar: it is amongst the most diverse places for life on Earth; a biodiversity hotspot.”
The diversity of the chameleon and the classification of the Madagascar chameleon species could help local biologists and trade managers to prevent over harvesting of local populations to protect the reptile’s diversity.
The deforestation in Madagascar is currently threatening 400 species of reptiles, 300 species of birds, 300 species of amphibians and 15,000 species of plants.
These numbers are worrying because 80 and 90 percent of the species found in Madagascar do not exist anywhere else on Earth, they are only found in Madagascar.
The findings of the study are published in the journal Molecular Ecology.