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Call a spade a spade: taxonomy and distribution of Pelobates, with description of a new Balkan endemic

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The genomic era contributes to update the taxonomy of many debated terrestrial vertebrates. In an accompanying work, we provided a comprehensive molecular assessment of spadefoot toads (Pelobates) using genomic data. Our results call for taxonomic updates in this group. First, nuclear phylogenomics confirmed the species-level divergence between the Iberian P. cultripes and its Moroccan relative P. varaldii. Second, we inferred that P. fuscus and P. vespertinus, considered subspecies until recently, feature partial reproductive isolation and thus deserve a specific level. Third, we evidenced cryptic speciation and diversification among deeply diverged lineages collectively known as Pelobates syriacus. Populations from the Near East correspond to the Eastern spadefoot toad P. syriacus sensu stricto, which is represented by two subspecies, one in the Levant (P. s. syriacus) and the other in the rest of the range (P. s. boettgeri). Populations from southeastern Europe correspond to the Balkan spadefoot toad, P. balcanicus. Based on genetic evidence, this species is also polytypic: the nominal P. b. balcanicus inhabits the Balkan Peninsula; a new subspecies P. b. chloeae ssp. nov. appears endemic to the Peloponnese. In this paper, we provide an updated overview of the taxonomy and distribution of all extant Pelobates taxa and describe P. b. chloeae ssp. nov.
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Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 131
Call a spade a spade: taxonomy and distribution of
Pelobates, with description of a new Balkan endemic
Christophe Dufresnes1,2,3, Ilias Strachinis4, Elias Tzoras5,
Spartak N. Litvinchuk6,7, Mathieu Denoël8
1 Laboratory for Conservation Biology, University of Lausanne, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland 2 Hintermann
& Weber SA, Avenue des Alpes 25, 1820 Montreux, Switzerland 3 Department of Animal and Plant Sciences,
University of Sheeld, Alfred Denny Building, Western Bank, S10 2TN Sheeld, United Kingdom 4 School of
Biology, Aristotle University of essaloniki 54124 essaloniki, Greece 5 26442 Patra, Achaia, Greece 6 Insti-
tute of Cytology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Tikhoretsky pr. 4, St. 194064 Petersburg, Russia 7 Department
of Zoology and Physiology, Dagestan State University, Gadzhiyev str. 43-a, 336700 Makhachkala, Dagestan,
Russia 8 Laboratory of Fish and Amphibian Ethology, Behavioural Biology Group, Freshwater and OCeanic
science Unit of reSearch (FOCUS), University of Liège, Liège, Belgium
Corresponding author: Christophe Dufresnes (christophe.dufresnes@hotmail.fr)
Academic editor: Angelica Crottini|Received 4 February 2019|Accepted 10 June 2019|Published 2 July 2019
http://zoobank.org/5E2B8623-A309-4EF6-9123-B95F04C5A88E
Citation: Dufresnes C, Strachinis I, Tzoras E, Litvinchuk SN, Denoël M (2019) Call a spade a spade: taxonomy and
distribution of Pelobates, with description of a new Balkan endemic. ZooKeys 859: 131–158. https://doi.org/10.3897/
zookeys.859.33634
Abstract
e genomic era contributes to update the taxonomy of many debated terrestrial vertebrates. In an ac-
companying work, we provided a comprehensive molecular assessment of spadefoot toads (Pelobates) using
genomic data. Our results call for taxonomic updates in this group. First, nuclear phylogenomics conrmed
the species-level divergence between the Iberian P. cultripes and its Moroccan relative P. varaldii. Second,
we inferred that P. fuscus and P. vespertinus, considered subspecies until recently, feature partial reproductive
isolation and thus deserve a specic level. ird, we evidenced cryptic speciation and diversication among
deeply diverged lineages collectively known as Pelobates syriacus. Populations from the Near East correspond
to the Eastern spadefoot toad P. syriacus sensu stricto, which is represented by two subspecies, one in the
Levant (P.s. syriacus) and the other in the rest of the range (P. s. boettgeri). Populations from southeastern
Europe correspond to the Balkan spadefoot toad, P. balcanicus. Based on genetic evidence, this species is also
polytypic: the nominal P. b. balcanicus inhabits the Balkan Peninsula; a new subspecies P. b. chloeae ssp. nov.
appears endemic to the Peloponnese. In this paper, we provide an updated overview of the taxonomy and
distribution of all extant Pelobates taxa and describe P. b. chloeae ssp. nov.
ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
doi: 10.3897/zookeys.859.33634
http://zookeys.pensoft.net
Copyright Christophe Dufresnes et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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Keywords
Amphibian, Palearctic, Pelobates balcanicus, Pelobates balcanicus chloeae, Pelobates vespertinus, Pelobatidae,
phylogenomics, phylogeography, spadefoot toad
Introduction
e revolution initiated by high-throughput sequencing techniques has reached the
eld of phylogeography (Coates et al. 2018), where it lifts the veil on cryptic species
and solves long-term taxonomic issues (e.g. Rodriguez et al. 2017; Psonis et al. 2018;
Dufresnes et al. 2018, 2019a). We conducted such study in spadefoot toads from
the monotypic family Pelobatidae Bonaparte, 1850 (genus Pelobates Wagler, 1830)
endemic to the Western Palearctic (Dufresnes et al. 2019b). ese grassland species
typically inhabit soft (e.g. sandy) soils with freshwater ponds for breeding and have
a semi-fossorial lifestyle, thanks to well-known adaptations such as metatarsal spades
(to dig themselves in) and a strongly ossied skull (to dig themselves out) (Székely
et al. 2017; Dufresnes 2019). ey are threatened in many parts of their fragmented
ranges due to land-use changes, wetland destruction, pollution, species introduction,
and ongoing changes in climate, which already led to population extinctions and con-
tractions of geographic ranges (Nyström et al. 2002, 2007; Džukić et al. 2005; Eggert
et al. 2006). Mediterranean regions, where most of the diversity is located (Litvinchuk
et al. 2013; Dufresnes et al. 2019b), could be particularly threatened (Iosif et al. 2014).
Until recently, Pelobates included four recognized extant species. First, the sister
taxa P.cultripes (Cuvier, 1829) and P. varaldii Pasteur & Bons, 1959 are found north
and south of the Strait of Gibraltar, respectively (Busack et al. 1985). Second, the
western and eastern sister taxa P. fuscus (Laurenti, 1768) and P. vespertinus (Pallas, 1771)
were long considered subspecies (e.g. Crottini et al. 2007), but their narrow transition
is rather consistent with a species level (Litvinchuk et al. 2013). ird, Mediterranean
populations from the Near East and the Balkans are commonly referred to as P. syriacus
Boettger, 1889 and split as two subspecies: P. syriacus syriacus in Asia Minor and P.
syriacus balcanicus Karaman, 1928 in the Balkans, based on morphological (Uğurtas
et al. 2002) and scattered phylogenetic data (Veith et al. 2006; Litvinchuk et al. 2013;
Ehl et al. 2019).
Our accompanying paper (Dufresnes et al. 2019b) revisits the evolution of this
group, with several taxonomic implications. First, phylogenomics conrmed the old
split between P. cultripes and P. varaldii, previously identied with mtDNA (Garcia-
Paris et al. 2003; Veith et al. 2006; Crottini et al. 2007) and allozyme markers (Busack
et al. 1985; Litvinchuk et al. 2013). Second, hybrid zone analyses support the conclu-
sions of Litvinchuk et al. (2013) that P. fuscus and P. vespertinus deserve a specic status.
ird, P. syriacus represents two cryptic species respectively distributed in the Near East
and the Balkans, then corresponding to P. syriacus and P. balcanicus. Fourth, these spe-
cies feature deep intraspecic divergence, worthy of subspecic status. is is the case
between Levantine and Anatolian/Caucasian populations in P. syriacus, and between
the northern Balkans and Peloponnese in P. balcanicus.
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 133
In this paper, we integrate these recent ndings into an updated overview of the
Pelobates radiation, including comparative diagnosis, current taxonomy, distribution,
and diversity of the resulting eight extant taxa (Fig. 1). Last but not least, we describe
the newly discovered clade from Peloponnese as a subspecies of P. balcanicus.
Material and methods
Nomenclatural search
In order to attribute names to the newly documented Pelobates species and subspe-
cies, we examined nomina available in the literature. To this end, we rst referred to
the Amphibian Species of the World online database (Frost 2019) and subsequently
reviewed all the original references available.
Diagnosis
We reviewed phenotypic (coloration, morphology) and genetic (genome size, karyo-
type, and sequence divergence) variation of the considered taxa. Coloration is illustrat-
ed by high-quality photographs of known geographic origins, taken by us and credited
photographers. Besides detailing general characteristics, we compiled a dataset of snout-
vent length (SVL) from published studies (Suppl. material 1, Table S1), consisting of
average SVL (computed separately for males and females) from 82 populations, totaling
Figure 1. Phylogeny and distribution of Pelobates taxa. e tree is adapted from the phylogenomic
analysis of Dufresnes et al. (2019b), and the map was built from known records updated with genetic data
(see accounts). Note that the distribution of P. vespertinus extends further east to Kazakhstan and Siberia.
Photo credits: CD (P. cultripes, P. b. chloeae), SNL (P. s. boettgeri), IS (P. b. balcanicus), A Sanchez Vialas
(P.varaldii), A Nöllert (P. fuscus), N Suriadna (P. vespertinus).
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
134
6,004 individuals at least, and representing all taxa expect the narrowly distributed P. s.
syriacus and P. b. chloeae (Suppl. material 1, Table S1). We report the ranges (minimum-
maximum) and average values for each sex separately, and illustrate interpopulation
variation by boxplots. We statistically tested dierences among taxa and sex by a two
way analysis of variance (ANOVA) in R. We then performed comparisons between spe-
cies using a Tukey test. Finally, we tested sex-specic dierences within taxa for which
measures of both sexes were available in at least ve populations, by paired t-tests.
We briey described the karyotype of each taxon based on the literature and fur-
ther report nuclear DNA content as a proxy to genome size, obtained from ow cy-
tometry. In addition, sequence divergence, available from our phylogeographic study
(Dufresnes et al. 2019b), are provided between each pair of taxa, based on mitochon-
drial (cyt-b + 16S, 1.2 kb) and nuclear DNA (63.5 kb of RAD tags).
Distribution
We detailed the distribution of each Pelobates taxon, based on available literature, i.e.
national and regional atlas, as well as scientic articles informative of distribution.
Boundaries between cryptic taxa were inferred from genetic studies, and thus remain
unclear for parapatric ranges for which no molecular survey has been conducted. Dis-
tribution layers were originally obtained from the IUCN Red List of reatened Spe-
cies (https://www.iucnredlist.org/), and meticulously reshaped with the drawing tools
of ArcMap 10.3.
Description of Pelobates balcanicus chloeae sp. nov.
In order to describe the new P. balcanicus subspecies from southern Greece, we con-
ducted a short eldwork expedition to the only recently conrmed locality of this tax-
on, Strofylia meadows in Peloponnese (38.1239°N, 21.3858°E) on December 2018.
Collection of live animals was authorized by permit ΑΔΑ: ΩΣΜ34653Π8-9ΣΟ issued
by the Greek Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change. Pelobates usually
breed during spring (March–April) in this area but are active all-year round providing
proper weather conditions. A total of 18 individuals could be captured in the evening
of December 10th, under heavy rains. e largest 12 individuals (putatively adults)
were measured for 11 standard morphometric variables, i.e. SVL: snout-vent length;
HW: head width; HL: head length; ED: eye diameter; EE: inter-eye distance; NN:
inter-nostril distance; EN: eye-nostril distance; ML: metatarsal tubercle length; MH:
metatarsal tubercle height; HLL: hind leg length; TTL: tibia + tarsus length. HLL and
TTL were measured with a ruler (1 mm precision); all other variables were measured
with a digital caliper (0.1 mm precision). For the sake of comparison, only one of us
(IS) measured all individuals. Note that we did not discriminate the sex of individuals
as it was unclear whether all specimens were adults.
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 135
Toads were subsequently released at their place of capture, except for two females
that were chosen as holotype and paratype, sent to the Natural History Museum of
Crete (NHMC). Our choice for a small type series was bounded by the rarity of this
taxon, so far conrmed from a single locality, with unknown population trends.
Results and discussion
We updated the distributions and taxonomy of Eurasian spadefoot toads (genus
Pelobates). Following recent molecular results (Dufresnes et al. 2019b), a total of eight
extant clades are distinguished. Six of them correspond to species level divergences,
given their conrmed or putative reproductive isolation, as inferred from hybrid
zone analyses, which make ad hoc tests to evaluate where two lineages stand along
the speciation continuum (Singhal and Moritz 2013; Dufresnes et al. 2019b). e
remaining intraspecic lineages are accordingly treated as subspecies, because they
featured extensive admixture and thus seem to lack reproductive barriers.
From our SVL dataset, there was a signicant global eect of species (P < 0.001)
but not of sex (P = 0.08), neither of their interaction (P = 0.42) (two way ANOVA).
e species eect was mainly due to dierences between the large P. cultripes, P.syriacus,
and P.balcanicus versus the smaller P. varaldii, P. fuscus, and P. vespertinus: all pairwise
comparisons between these two groups were signicant (P < 0.001), but none within
groups (P > 0.05) (Tukey test). Females were signicantly larger than males in P.
cultripes (P= 0.002, n = 16 populations with both sexes), P. fuscus (P < 0.001, n = 21),
but not in P.balcanicus (P = 0.58, n = 15) (paired t-test). Sample size precluded similar
analyses in the remaining taxa.
e following present accounts for each taxon. We could successfully access the
original literature for all but one description, and herein report the primary informa-
tion as it was published. e only exception is Pelobates praefuscus Khosatzky, 1985,
and we rely on Frost (2019) for its information. Phylogeny and distributions of extant
Pelobates are shown in Figure 1, sizes and color variation are displayed in Figure 2, and
Figures 3 and Figures 4, respectively.
Pelobates cultripes (Cuvier, 1829)
Western spadefoot
Diagnosis. e largest Pelobates species, P. cultripes diers from the other Eurasian spa-
defoots by metatarsal spades being entirely black and a at skull. Sizes largely overlap
between sexes although males are generally smaller than females (Fig. 2). e back-
ground coloration can be yellow, gray, or brown, reticulated by dark patches; it typically
lacks orange spots (Fig. 3). Average SVL = 74 mm (range: 32–105 mm) for females
(n = 16 populations) and 71 mm (34–93 mm) for males (n = 17 populations) (Suppl.
material 1, Table S1; Fig. 2). e karyotype consists of six large and seven small (i.e. <
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
136
6% of total length) pairs of two-armed chromosomes (Morescalchi 1967, 1971; Mores-
calchi et al. 1977; Schmid et al. 1987; Herrero and Talavera 1988). Large centromeric
C-bands appears in pairs 1, 2, 4, 9, and 12; pericentric bands in the short arm of pair 1
and the long arm of pair 8; telomeric bands in the long arms of pairs 1, 2, and 11; the
short arm of pair 7 is almost heterochromatic (Herrero and Talavera 1988). Nucleolus
organizers (NORs) are in the short arm of pair 7 (Schmid et al. 1987). e nuclear
DNA content averages 7.4 pg (Litvinchuk et al. 2013).
Taxonomy. First named Rana cultripes Cuvier, 1829; holotype: MNHNP 0.4554;
type locality: “notre midi”, corresponds to southern France, as noted by Mertens and
Müller (1928). Two junior synonyms. Rana calcarata Michahelles, 1830; type lo-
cality: “prope Malagam” (near Malagam), probably Malaga, Spain; type(s): not men-
tioned. Cultripes provincialis Müller, 1832; type locality: “Provence” (meridional
France), France; type(s): not designated, but the author refers to Rana cultripes from
Paris (MNHN). First mentioned as Pelobates cultripes by Tschudi (1838).
Distribution. e species inhabits south-western Europe (0–1770 m elevation
a.s.l.) (Sillero et al. 2014; Beja et al. 2009) (Fig. 1). Its main distribution spans across
the Iberian Peninsula, where it occurs roughly everywhere in suitable habitats south
of the Cantabrian Mountains and Pyrenees (Lizana 1997; Malkmus 2004). It is yet
absent from the south-eastern tip of Spain (Lizana 1997). In France, it is present only
along the Atlantic coast, from the Landes region to the Loire River, and along the Med-
iterranean Sea, from the Spanish border to the Var Department, reaching the area of
Valence in the Rhone Valley. Some isolates exist also in south-western France (irion
and Cheylan 2012). IUCN status: Near reatened (Beja et al. 2009).
Diversity. Combining mtDNA and microsatellite data, Gutiérrez-Rodriguez et
al. (2017) identied three closely-related mtDNA haplogroups (see also Crottini et al.
2010) in the southern, western / northwestern, and northeastern parts of the range,
which are mirrored by equivalent nuclear clusters that widely admix. Most of the ge-
netic diversity of this species is found in southern ranges, where climate conditions
remained stable through the last ice ages (Gutiérrez-Rodriguez et al. 2017).
Pelobates varaldii Pasteur & Bons, 1959
Moroccan spadefoot
Diagnosis. A smaller version of P. cultripes (Fig. 2) diering by a few phenotypic fea-
tures. Unlike P. cultripes, the black coloration of the spades is often concentrated on
the edges (Pasteur and Bons 1959; Busack et al. 1985). e cranial braincase is high
and narrow in P. varaldii, while it is low and wide in P. cultripes (Pasteur and Bons
1959; Roček 1981). e background coloration can be yellow, gray, and brown, with
dark reticulate patches, and the dorsal surface is abundantly covered by orange dots,
most pronounced on the eyelids (usually absent in P. cultripes; Pasteur and Bons 1959;
Beukema et al. 2013; Fig. 3). Males are usually smaller than females (Fig. 2). Aver-
age SVL = 53 mm (range: 36–66 mm) for females (n = 4 populations) and 51 mm
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 137
(33–65mm) for males (n = 4 populations) (Suppl. material 1, Table S1; Fig. 2). e
karyotype includes six large and seven small pairs of two-armed chromosomes. Large
centromeric C-bands appears in the pairs 1, 2, 4, 9, and 12; pericentric bands in the
short arms of pair 1 and long arm of pair 8; telomeric bands in the long arms of pairs
1, 2, and 11; the short arm of pair 7 is almost heterochromatic (Herrero and Talavera
1988). e nuclear DNA content averages 7.3 pg (Litvinchuk et al. 2013). As shown
Figure 2. Between-population variation of average size (snout–vent length – SVL) for each Pelobates
species, measured separately for females (pink) and males (blue). is compiles average size-data from 82
populations, representing at least 6,004 individuals (Suppl. material 1, Table S1). For P. balcanicus, it only
includes populations from the nominal P. b. balcanicus. For P. syriacus, it only includes populations from
P. s. boettgeri.
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
138
in Table 1, P. varaldii diers from P. cultripes by 6.0% at mtDNA and 0.40% at nuclear
DNA (Dufresnes et al. 2019b).
Taxonomy. e nomen Pelobates varaldii Pasteur & Bons, 1959 is the only one
ever proposed for the Moroccan populations of spadefoot toads; holotype: MNHN-
RA-1959.1; type locality: Merja Samora, Morocco. e ancient split of P. varaldii,
dating back to the Messinian Salinity Crisis (5.3 My), supports its specic distinction
from P. cultripes (Busack et al. 1985; Crottini et al. 2007).
Distribution. It is endemic to north-western Morocco (0–350 m elevation a.s.l.),
found along the Atlantic coast, from the south of Tanger to Oualidia, where it is rare
(de Pous et al. 2012; Beukema et al. 2013; Frost 2019). IUCN status: Endangered
(Salvador et al. 2009).
Diversity. To our knowledge, P. varaldii has not been the focus of any phylogeo-
graphic or population genetic work.
Figure 3. Color variation in Pelobates cultripes, P. varaldii, P. fuscus and P. vespertinus. Photo credits and
origins as follows a CD (Hérault, France) b, c CD (Algarve, Portugal) d A Sanchez Vialas (Spain) e G
Martinez (Kenitra, Morocco) f–h A Sanchez Vialas (Tanger, Morocco) i, j N Suriadna (Ukraine) k CD
(Wojewodztwo podkarpackie, Poland) l A Nöllert (Burgenland, Austria) m–p N Suriadna (Ukraine).
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 139
Pelobates fuscus (Laurenti, 1768)
Common spadefoot
Diagnosis. Small spadefoot characterized by pale grayish metatarsal spades and a
domed skull. e webbing of the hindfeet is well developed. Males are smaller than
females (Fig. 2). e species can be found in a spectrum of gray, brown, or yellow-
ish colors, but rarely greenish (P. Székely pers. comm.), and features patterns such
as stripes or blotches of varying sizes; variable presence of orange dots, from almost
absent to very abundant (Fig. 3). In Eastern Europe, it diers from its sister species
P. vespertinus by most individuals having numerous dark rounded spots on a light
dorsum (Suriadna et al. 2016) and lacking a dark stripe between the eyes (Lada et al.
2005). Average SVL = 54 mm (range: 37–78 mm) for females (n = 21 populations)
and 47 mm (36–65 mm) for males (n = 21 populations) (Suppl. material 1, Table
S1; Fig. 2). e karyotype consists of seven large and six small pairs of two-armed
chromosomes (Mészáros 1973; Schmid et al. 1987; Manilo and Radchenko 2004;
Manilo and Manuilova 2013; Suriadna 2014). Centromeric C-bands are obvious
in pairs 2, 6, and 7–13 (Schmid et al. 1987). NORs are in the short arm of pair 7
(Schmid 1980, 1982). e nuclear DNA content (calculated from ow cytometry)
averages 8.7–9.0pg (Litvinchuk et al. 2013).
Taxonomy. Originally described as Bufo fuscus Laurenti, 1768; type locality: not
specically designated (“in paludibus, rarissime hospitantur in continenti”, in swamps,
rarely on the land); type(s): the specimens depicted by Rösel von Rosenhof (1758:
pls XVII, XVIII), expressively cited by Laurenti (1768); although controversial (see
Nöllert et al. 2012; Frost 2019), the additional mention of pl. XV (p. 122), a drawing
of a dissected Pelophylax, could simply be an error. Rösel depicted the amphibians of
Germany, and Shaw (1802) accordingly mentioned that Rösel found his specimens
in the neighborhood of “Nurenberg” (Nürnberg), Germany, which could then apply
as the type locality. Seven junior synonyms. Rana alliacea Shaw, 1802; type locality:
not specically designated, but Shaw (1802) refers to Rösel’s toads from Nürnberg,
Germany; type(s): the toad illustrated by the author (pl. 41), which may very well
corresponds to the amplexed female on the top right of pl. XVII in Rösel von Rosenhof
(1758), of identical posture and color patterns. Bombinator marmorata Sturm,
1828; type locality: near Penig, Germany; holotype: the frog illustrated by the author.
Cultripes minor Müller, 1832; type locality: “unbekannt” (unknown); type(s): not
mentioned. Pelobates fuscus var. lividis Koch, 1872: type locality: “von den Wiesen
in der Nähe des Röder-Wäldchens bei Frankfurt” (the meadows in the Röder groove
near Frankfurt), Germany; type(s): not mentioned; Pelobates insubricus Cornalia,
1873; type locality: nearby Milano, Italy; type(s): not mentioned, most likely
deposited at MSNM, but presumably lost since (Blackburn and Scali 2014). Pelobates
latifrons Herón-Royer, 1888; type locality: “environ de Turin” (nearby Torino), Italy;
type(s): not mentioned. Pelobates praefuscus Khosatzky, 1985; type locality: Etuliya,
Moldova; holotype: ZISP 21N RNA M-1, a Pliocene fossil (according to Frost 2019).
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
140
e Italian populations, for long considered as a subspecies P.f. insubricus, have been a
matter of debate until recently because they bear private mtDNA haplotypes (Crottini
et al. 2007). Litvinchuk et al. (2013) synonymized this taxon with P. fuscus, given
the weak divergence of these haplotypes, together with the lack of dierentiation
of allozyme and genome content. As it stands, P. fuscus should thus be considered a
monotypic taxon.
Distribution. Widespread distribution in western, central and eastern Eu-
rope (0–810 m elevation a.s.l.), but absent from the northern European countries
and most of southern Europe (Sillero et al. 2014; Nöllert at al. 2012) (Fig. 1). In
the west, it reaches the eastern edge of the Netherlands (Creemers and Van Delft
2009), the eastern part of Flanders in Belgium (Bauwens and Claus 1996), the
western parts of Nordrhein-Westfalens and the south-east of Rheinland-Paz in
Germany (Bitz et al. 1996; Chmela and Kronshage 2011), the north-eastern side of
France (particularly along the Rhine River, Eggert and Vacher 2012). In the north,
it extends to northern Netherlands (Creemers and Van Delft 2009), the North Sea
coastline of Germany (Nöllert and Günther 1996) and Denmark, the south of Swe-
den, as well as the coastline of the Baltic Sea from Germany to Estonia, and east-
ward until it reaches P. vespertinus in Russia (Kuzmin 1999; Nyström et al. 2007;
Litvinchuk et al. 2013; Sillero et al. 2014). e contact zone with the latter is well
delineated from the Kursk region in Russia to the Black Sea coast (Dufresnes et al.
2019b). From there, it is present westward along the Black Sea coast of Ukraine to
north-eastern Bulgaria (Kuzmin 1999; Stojankov et al. 2011). e southern edges
extend along the Danube at the borders of Romania and Bulgaria (Stojankov et al.
2011) and across Serbia (Vukov et al. 2013), eastern Croatia, northern Bosnia and
Herzegovina, Slovenia (Džukić et al. 2008, Curić et al. 2018), northern and east-
ern Austria around the Alps (Cabela et al. 2001), and southern Germany (Nöllert
and Gunther 1996). e species is also present in a large area of northern Italy,
especially in the Po Valley (Andreone 2006). Last, isolated populations persist in
central France (Indre, Loiret, Indre-et-Loire: Eggert and Vacher 2012) and west-
ern Bulgaria (around Soa: Stojankov et al. 2011). IUCN Status: Not Evaluated,
considered Least Concern when grouped with P. vespertinus (Agasyan et al. 2009a).
Declines have been reported for more than a century in various parts of Europe,
which have caused a regression of the distribution limits (Džukić et al. 2005; Egg-
ert et al. 2006).
Diversity. e phylogeographic work by Crottini et al. (2007) and Litvinchuk
et al. (2013) characterized two refugial groups for this species (as the “western line-
age of P. fuscus”), based on shallow mtDNA divergence and allozyme dierentiation:
in the Balkans/northern Italy and on the western shores of the Black Sea coast. is
seems supported by weak genomic dierentiation among Central-European samples
(Dufresnes et al. 2019b). e refugial areas bear nearly all the genetic diversity of the
species, which was lost in the derived northern populations, following post-glacial
colonizations (Eggert et al. 2006).
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 141
Pelobates vespertinus (Pallas, 1771)
Pallas’ spadefoot
Diagnosis. Morphologically close to its sister species P. fuscus, it similarly features pale
metatarsal spades and a domed skull. e coloration also spans the gray-yellowish-
brownish spectrum, including reddish individuals (Fig. 3); orange dots can be heavily
marked or absent (Fig. 3). It diers from P. fuscus by most individuals having three
light longitudinal stripes on the dorsum (Suriadna et al. 2016), as well as a dark stripe
between the eyes (Lada et al. 2005). Sexes of similar size (Fig. 2). Average SVL = 47
mm (range: 29–59 mm) for females (n = 3 populations) and 48 mm (29–61 mm) for
males (n = 12 populations) (Suppl. material 1; Table S1, Fig. 2). e karyotype consists
of seven large and six small pairs of two-armed chromosomes (Manilo and Manuilova
2013; Suriadna 2014). NORs (secondary constrictions) are in the short arm of pair 7
(Manilo and Radchenko 2008). e nuclear DNA content averages 9.2–9.4 pg (Lit-
vinchuk et al. 2013). As shown in Table 1, P. vespertinus diers from P. fuscus by 2.5%
at mtDNA and 0.13% at nuclear DNA (Dufresnes et al. 2019b). e genome of P.
vespertinus is about 5% larger than P. fuscus (Borkin et al. 2001; Litvinchuk et al. 2013;
Suriadna 2014).
Taxonomy. Originally named Rana vespertina Pallas, 1771; type locality:
not specically designated, but the author mentioned this taxon in Zarbay Creek
(“Bach Sarbei”, Samara oblast), Russia, which can be considered as the type local-
ity; type(s): not mentioned. ree junior synonyms. Pelobates fuscus var. orien-
talis Severtsov, 1855; type locality: “Voronezhskaya Gubernia” (Voronezh gover-
norate), Russia; type(s): not mentioned. Pelobates campestris Severtsov, 1855;
type locality: between Bityug, Don and Ikorets rivers in today’s Voronezh province,
Russia; type(s): not mentioned. Pelobates borkini Zagorodniuk, 2003; proposed
for the eastern form of P.fuscus but nomen nudum because neither a type speci-
men nor a type locality were designated (Zagorodniuk 2003). Pelobates vesperti-
nus was previously considered a subspecies of the common spadefoot, as Pelobates
fuscus vespertinus (Crochet and Dubois 2004). e signicant divergence (~2–3
My) and restricted admixture with P. fuscus, consistent with reproductive isolation,
both support the distinction of P. vespertinus as a separate species (Litvinchuk et
al. 2013; Dufresnes et al. 2019b), as also proposed from genome size dierences
(Suriadna 2014).
Distribution. A lowland species (0–830 m elevation a.s.l.) widespread from the
contact zone with P. fuscus, to western Siberia and Kazakhstan, and along the Ural
River (Kuzmin 1999) (Fig. 1). However, the exact limits with P. fuscus are not known
in the northern 700 km of the distribution range. Detailed genetic data showed that
the transition extends between the Kursk region to southern Ukraine (Litvinchuk et al.
2013; Dufresnes et al. 2019b). In the south, it is present along the Sea of Azov coast to
the northern Caucasus (Kuzmin 1999; Suriadna et al. 2016). Spadefoot populations in
the Crimea are attributed to P. vespertinus (Litvinchuk et al. 2013). e southernmost
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
142
populations are in Dagestan, where it is sympatric with P. syriacus (Mazanaeva and
Askenderov 2007). IUCN Status: Not Evaluated, as P. vespertinus was previously
included in the P. fuscus assessment.
Diversity. Crottini et al. (2007) and Litvinchuck et al. (2013) provided detailed
phylogeographic accounts for this species (as the “eastern lineage of P. fuscus”), which
consists of a homogenous clade that expanded from a single glacial refugia located in
the eastern shores of the Sea of Azov. Pelobates vespertinus forms a narrow hybrid zone
(< 20 km) with P.fuscus in eastern Ukraine/western Russia (Litvinchuk et al. 2013;
Dufresnes et al. 2019b).
Figure 4. Color variation in Pelobates syriacus and P. balcanicus. Photo credits and origins as follows
a, bG Hamoivitch (Israël) c R Winkler (Israël) d G Martinez (Israël) e IS (Limnos, Greece) f SNL (Eu-
ropean Turkey) g IS (Limnos, Greece) h A Nöllert (Dagestan, Russia) i MD (Danube Delta, Romania)
jIS (race, Greece) k IS (Macedonia, Greece) l IS (Evia, Greece) m–o IS (Peloponnese, Greece) p CD
(Peloponnese, Greece).
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 143
Pelobates syriacus Boettger, 1889
Eastern spadefoot
Diagnosis. Large spadefoot with whitish metatarsal spades and a at skull. Webbing
of the hind feet less developed than in P. fuscus and P. vespertinus. Sexes of similar
size (Fig. 2). Coloration can be gray, yellow, greenish but rarely brown; orange dots
often present, but not as abundant and marked as in some individuals of P. fuscus,
P. vespertinus, or P. balcanicus (Fig. 4). Based on populations of P. syriacus boettgeri,
average SVL = 68 mm (range: 40–92) for females (n = 5 populations) and 69 mm
(57–83 mm) for males (n = 4 populations) (Suppl. material 1, Table S1; Fig. 2). e
karyotype consists of seven large and six small pairs of two-armed chromosomes
(Uğurtaş et al. 2001, from P. s. boettgeri). Centromeric C-bands are obvious in pairs
8 and 10 and telomeric Q-bands in the long arms of pairs 9 and 10 (Schmid 1979;
Schmid et al. 1987). NORs are in the short arm of pair 7 (Schmid 1982; Schmid et
al. 1987). e nuclear DNA content averages 8.2 pg (Litvinchuk et al. 2013; data
from P. s. boettgeri).
Taxonomy. Described from the Levant region as Pelobates syriacus Boettger,
1889; type locality: “Haia in Syrien” (Haifa), Israel; type: SMF 1437.1a (Boettger
1892), subsequently designated as lectotype SMF 1722 (Mertens 1967). Other nomi-
na proposed apply to P. s. boettgeri and P. balcanicus (see below).
Distribution. Scattered distribution; mainly present in the Middle East with
0–2000 m elevation a.s.l. (Agasyan et al. 2009b; Uğurtas 2001; Džukić et al. 2008;
Soanidou 2012) (Fig. 1). e nominate subspecies P. syriacus syriacus inhabits the
southern part of the distribution in the Levant, from the Syrian coast at the border of
Lebanon to the southern Israeli coast, as well as in south-western Syria (Boettger 1889;
Munwes et al. 2010; Soanidou 2012). It may be extinct from western Jordan (Agasy-
an et al. 2009b; Disi and Amr 2010). e subspecies P. syriacus boettgeri occupies the
remaining ranges. In the west, it is present in western Turkey and along the Aegean
coastline. It also occurs in European Turkey and probably southeastern Bulgaria. Alter-
natively, the latter populations could belong to P. balcanicus, notably along the Maritsa
River, and identication is pending molecular analyses. e presence of P. syriacus is
also documented on the Greek islands of Limnos, Lesbos, and Kos (Soanidou 2012;
Strachinis and Roussos 2016). Its central distribution is poorly known and therefore
not well delineated, with several isolates described in Turkey, both along the Black and
Mediterranean sea coasts, as well as the central parts of Anatolia. In the northeast, P.
syriacus reaches the southern slopes of the Caucasus, from Georgia to Azerbaijan. e
northernmost records are in Dagestan, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, where
it meets P. vespertinus (Mazanaeva and Askenderov 2007). Further east, it is present
along the southern shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran (eastern limit in Golestan; Kamali
and Malekzadeh 2013). IUCN status: Not Evaluated; considered Least Concern when
grouped with P. balcanicus (Agasyan et al. 2009b).
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
144
Diversity. Using mtDNA and genomic data, Dufresnes et al. (2019b) evidenced a
Pleistocene split between the Levant (P. s. syriacus) and the rest of the range (P.s.boettgeri;
see below). Within both subspecies, populations are weakly dierentiated despite their
present-day fragmentation (see also Munwes et al. 2010 for P. s. syriacus). Populations
from the Caucasus (P. s. boettgeri) diers from Anatolian ones at nuclear, but not
mitochondrial markers. In the Lesser Caucasus and southern Turkey, P. s. boettgeri
features traces of past gene ow with P. s. syriacus. Iranian populations have not been
examined with genetic tools and could bear cryptic diversity.
Pelobates syriacus boettgeri Mertens, 1923
Anatolian spadefoot
Diagnosis. Similar to the nominal subspecies, notably in terms of cranial characters
(Roček 1981) and coloration patterns (Fig. 4). Most biometric data on P. syriacus come
from populations of P. s. boettgeri (Fig. 2, see above). As shown in Table 1, P. s. boettgeri
diers from P. s. syriacus by 1.7% at mtDNA and 0.01% at nuclear DNA (Dufresnes
et al. 2019b).
Taxonomy. e oldest nomen available for Anatolian/Caucasian spadefoots is
Pelobates syriacus boettgeri Mertens, 1923; type locality: Belesuwar, southeastern
Azerbaijan; holotype: SMF 1725 (originally 1437.2a, Mertens 1923). A single junior
synonym. Pelobates transcaucasicus Delwig, 1928; type locality: “Tiis” (Tbilisi),
Georgia; types: ten syntypes, nine at ZISP, and one at ZIK (Amph A5/A (2164)). Sub-
species level of P. s. boettgeri is granted by its phylogenetic divergence from P. s. syriacus,
but the recent split (~1 My) and the widespread traces of admixture between both sub-
species in Armenia, Turkey (Antalya region), and Israel argue against a specic status.
Distribution and diversity. See the accounts for P. syriacus.
Pelobates balcanicus Karaman, 1928
Balkan spadefoot
Diagnosis. Resembling P. syriacus with which it was previously considered a synonym
(Frost 2019). Large toad with whitish metatarsal spades and a at skull. Sexes of
similar size (Fig. 2). Various motifs with gray, yellow or greenish colors, but rarely
brown (unlike the sympatric P. fuscus, P. Székely pers. comm.); frequently specked
with orange dots, sometimes heavily (perhaps more than in P. syriacus) (Fig. 4).
Based on 25 biometric characters, Uğurtas et al. (2002) showed that the P.balcanicus
populations from the Balkans are morphologically very variable and dierentiated
from Asia Minor (P. syriacus); yet P. syriacus populations from European Turkey
(Edirne, genetically conrmed by Dufresnes et al. 2019b) and southeastern Bulgaria
(Primorsko) grouped with P. balcanicus (Uğurtas et al. 2002). Roček (1981) only found
one cranial dierence: the processus posterior parasphenoidei is present in P.syriacus but
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 145
not developed in P. balcanicus. Morphometric assessments associated to genetic data
are needed. Based on populations of P.balcanicusbalcanicus, average SVL = 67 mm
(48–100 mm) for females (n = 16 populations) and 68 mm (46–94 mm) for males (n
= 15 populations) (Suppl. material 1, Table S1; Fig. 2). e karyotype (P. b. balcanicus)
consists of six large and seven small pairs of two-armed chromosomes. NORs
(secondary constrictions) are in the short arm of pair 7 (Belcheva et al. 1977). e
nuclear DNA content (calculated from ow cytometry) averages 7.9 pg (Litvinchuk et
al. 2013; data from P. b. balcanicus). As shown in Table 1, P. balcanicus diers from P.
syriacus by ~7.4% at mtDNA and ~0.31% at nuclear DNA (Dufresnes et al. 2019b).
Taxonomy. Originally described as a subspecies of the Eastern spadefoot,
Pelobatessyriacus balcanicus Karaman, 1928; type locality: Dojran Lake, North
Macedonia; type(s): most likely include the skeleton described by Karaman (1928),
deposited at MMNH (Skopje, North Macedonia), but destroyed in an earthquake
in 1963 (V. Sidorovska pers. comm.); the MMNH currently hosts one specimen
from the type locality, MMNH-A-699 (collected in 2001). is taxon represents a
distinct species from P. syriacus, due its old divergence (>6 My) and the absence of
contemporary introgression at their area of contact in European Turkey, consistent
with advanced reproductive isolation (Dufresnes et al. 2019b). erefore, we herein
remove P. balcanicus from its previous synonymy with P. syriacus.
Distribution. Pelobates balcanicus is restricted to the Balkan Peninsula, 0–920 m
a.s.l. (Džukić et al. 2008) (Fig. 1). In the north, it is present in northern Serbia and
northwestern Romania. It follows the Danube River from Serbia to the Black Sea in
Romania (Székely et al. 2013; Ţeran et al. 2017). ere are yet some possible gaps
along the Danube (e.g. around the Iron Gate: Vukov et al. 2013; Ţeran et al. 2017).
In the north-west, the Great Morova River in Serbia marks its western margin (Džukić
et al. 2008). Northern ranges are currently disconnected from the southern popula-
tions (Vukov et al. 2013) of North Macedonia, eastern Albania (a single location),
south-west Bulgaria (Strimon River), and Greece (Džukić et al. 2008; Mollov et al.
2006; Szabolcs and Mizsei 2017). In the 1980s, Soanidou (2012) reported the spe-
cies along the western coastline of the Adriatic Sea and the northern coastline of the
Gulf of Corinth (Greece), but there is no recent observation in this region. Elsewhere
Table 1. Pairwise % of genetic dierences between Pelobates taxa (from the data of Dufresnes et al.
2019b). e estimates below diagonal correspond to mitochondrial DNA (cyt-b + 16S, 1.2 kb); the esti-
mates above diagonal correspond to nuclear DNA (63.5 kb of RAD tags).
P. cultripes P. varaldii P. fuscus P. vespertinus P. s. syriacus P. s. boettgeri P. b. balcanicus P. b. chloeae
P. cultripes 0.40 0.66 0.75 0.72 0.70 0.74 0.73
P. varaldii 6.0 – 0.83 0.92 0.89 0.88 0.92 0.90
P. fuscus 10.1 10.0 0.13 0.63 0.62 0.65 0.64
P. vespertinus 9.7 9.6 2.5 0.71 0.70 0.74 0.73
P. s. syriacus 9.1 8.6 9.1 8.9 0.01 0.32 0.30
P. s. boettgeri 9.2 8.9 9.2 9.0 1.7 0.31 0.29
P. b. balcanicus 9.2 8.6 8.5 8.5 7.2 7.0 0.02
P. b. chloeae 9.2 8.2 8.5 8.6 7.7 7.7 2.8
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
146
in Greece, it is present in Peloponnese (P. balcanicus chloeae ssp. nov., see below), in the
eastern parts of the mainland, and along the Aegean Sea shores, from Sterea Ellas to
the Evros River, until it reaches P. syriacus in race (Džukić et al. 2008; Soanidou,
2012). e spadefoots known from the Maritsa (Evros) River in southern Bulgaria,
and along the western coasts of the Black Sea, may correspond to P. syriacus (Stojanov
et al. 2011; Dufresnes et al. 2019b). IUCN status: Not Evaluated; previously included
in P. syriacus assessment.
Diversity. Using mtDNA and genomic data, Dufresnes et al. (2019b) evidenced
a Pleistocene split (~2 My) for spadefoots from the Peloponnese (P.balcanicuschloeae
ssp. nov.). In the rest of the range, at least three glacial lineages (<1 My) were
identied: a rst one in the eastern ranges, from the Carpathians to the Black Sea
and as south as Greek race; a second one in western ranges from Serbia to northern
Greece; and a third one on the coastal island of Evia (north-east of Peloponnese). e
eastern and western lineages widely admix. Populations from central Greece are yet
to be examined.
Pelobates balcanicus chloeae ssp. nov.
http://zoobank.org/A1C08645-8307-49EF-A2EB-7F09D7BCC89D
Chloe’s spadefoot
Type locality. Strofylia meadows, near the village of Metochi, Peloponnese, Greece
(38.1239°N, 21.3858°E, 1 m a.s.l.). Coastal sandy meadows with shallow ponds (Fig. 5).
Holotype. NHMC 80.2.15.10, adult female captured on December 10th 2018
by CD, IS and ET at Strofylia meadows, Greece (38.1239°N, 21.3858°E, 1 m a.s.l.);
subsequently deposited at the Natural History Museum of Crete (NHMC); mitochon-
drial cyt-b haplotype BAL19 (Dufresnes et al. 2019b). Full measurements are available
in Table 2 and photographs in Figure 5. Large specimen (SVL = 78.7 mm) with the
head narrower than the body, ending by a rounded snout; nostrils closer to each other’s
than from the eyes; forehead at, as viewed from the side, with large interorbital; tym-
panum invisible; vomerine teeth present. Large, bulging eyes (7.2 mm of diameter)
with vertical pupil and a dark-golden iris. Legs relatively short (92 mm), 1.2 times the
size of the body. Five partially webbed toes; webbing formula: I 1-1+ II 1-2 III 1-2+ IV
3-1+ V; relative lengths from inner to outer toes: 4>3>5>2>1; large and long rounded
(blade-shaped) metatarsal tubercle (“spade”), whitish; subarticular tubercles indistinct.
Strong arms with four unwebbed ngers; palm tubercles visible, oval. Ventral and dor-
sal skins smooth, although the latter bears scattered warts. Coloration in life: ventrum
glossy white, bluish near the limbs; dorsum light gray with prominent green-brown
reticulated patches featuring orange dots, notably at the armpits; head darker, with
a horizontal brown line running between the eyes. Changes of coloration in ethanol:
dorsum less contrasted; fainted orange dots.
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 147
Paratype. NHMC 80.2.15.11, adult female captured on December 10th 2018 by
CD, IS and ET at Strofylia meadows, Greece (38.1239°N, 21.3858°E, 1 m a.s.l.);
subsequently deposited at the Natural History Museum of Crete (NHMC); mito-
chondrial cyt-b haplotype BAL20 (Dufresnes et al. 2019b). Full measurement and
post-mortem pictures are provided in Table 2 and Figure 5, respectively.
Diagnosis. Supposedly similar morphologically to the nominal subspecies and
reliably diagnosed only by molecular data. So far studied from the type locality only
(Strofylia). Like the nominal subspecies, Pelobates balcanicus chloeae is a large spadefoot
with whitish metatarsal spades, a at skull and incomplete webbing on the hind feet
(Fig. 4). It also shares general characteristics of the genus, i.e. stocky built, smooth skin
and vertical pupil; males bear oval protuberances on the arms, absent in females. e
dorsum coloration is generally light gray, sometimes yellow, covered with dark green-
brown reticulate patches and variable orange dots (Fig. 4). From our own observa-
tions, the color patterns seem to slightly dier from the nominal subspecies (Fig. 4). In
P.b.chloeae, the green patches are small and numerous (fewer but larger patches in the
nominal subspecies); dots are usually orange (more reddish in the nominal subspecies)
and located inside the green patches (randomly distributed in the nominal subspecies).
e ventrum and limbs are glossy and slightly bluish (rather pale whitish in the nomi-
nal subspecies). Moreover the snout of P. b. chloeae appears shorter and blunter than
the nominal subspecies. ese suspicions will need to be assessed by formal phenotypic
analyses. At the type locality, the SVL of adults averaged 71.5 mm (range: 62–84; n
= 12 individuals, both sexes combined). e mating call and the tadpole are yet to be
described and diagnosed. e karyotype has not been documented. As shown in Table
1, P. b. chloeae diers from the nominal subspecies by 2.8% at mtDNA and 0.02% at
nuclear DNA (Dufresnes et al. 2019b).
Table 2. Morphometric measurements (mm) of Pelobates balcanicus chloeae at the type locality (Strofylia
meadows), based on 12 adults (both sexes combined), and detailed for the type specimens. SVL: snout-
vent length; HW: head width; HL: head length; ED: eye diameter; EE: inter-eye distance; NN: inter-
nostril distance; EN: eye-nostril distance; ML: metatarsal tubercle length; MH: metatarsal tubercle height;
HLL: hind leg length; TTL: tibia + tarsus length.
Strofylia population Holotype NMHC 80.2.15.10 Paratype NMHC 80.2.15.11
SVL 71.5 ± 3.4 78.7 74.1
HW 23.7 ± 1.1 26.6 25.5
HL 21.8 ± 0.9 23.4 23.1
ED 7.4 ± 0.24 7.2 7.1
EE 15.9 ± 0.7 16.7 17.3
NN 4.4 ± 0.2 4.6 4.2
EN 6.0 ± 0.3 6.7 6.0
ML 6.1 ± 0.4 7.1 6.5
MH 2.6 ± 0.1 2.6 2.8
HLL 83.7 ± 3.6 92 90
TTL 64.2 ± 3.1 72 69
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
148
Figure 5. Description of Pelobates balcanicus chloeae. To p live photograph of the holotype, NHMC
80.2.15.10 (CD, taken on December 10th 2018); middle dorsal and lateral views of the type specimens
(left NHMC 80.2.15.10; right NHMC 80.2.15.11) post-mortem (IS); bottom Strofylia meadows, the
type locality in Peloponnese, Greece (ET).
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 149
Taxonomic status. Following Dufresnes et al. (2019b), we raise the population(s)
from the Peloponnese as a distinct P. balcanicus subspecies based on nuclear and mi-
tochondrial phylogenetic data, but refrain a specic status from current data, due
to the relatively young evolutionary divergence (~2 My) and potential introgression
with the nominal subspecies.
Etymology. No name is available for spadefoots from the Peloponnese or Greece
in general. We hence attribute it a new nomen, Pelobates balcanicus chloeae, as a refer-
ence to the young daughter of CD, Chloé, who played a decisive role in guiding his
research towards European biogeography and herpetology. Moreover, “Chloé” is an
ancient Greek name (“Χλόη”) designating the young green grass spurring from the
ground in spring, reminiscent of spadefoots unearthing themselves to breed in mass.
e name is also associated with Dimitra (Δήμητρα), the Ancient Greek goddess of
agriculture who protected traditional farmlands in which so many amphibians used
to thrive.
Distribution. From current knowledge, this subspecies is endemic to the Pelo-
ponnese in southern Greece (Dufresnes et al. 2019b) (Fig. 1); it was so far genetically
conrmed from its type locality only. Historically (1980s), there were records of
spadefoots all over the Peloponnese, except in the three southern peninsulas (Böhme
1975; Eiselt 1988; Soanidou 2012). Nowadays, the two known Pelobates localities
are restricted to the central (Tripoli) and north-western (Strofylia) areas. Conse-
quently, it is likely that there are only few populations left for this subspecies. It is
not excluded that its range extends to Central Greece, where potential populations
have not been examined; one sample from Kallithea Elassonos (essaly, Greece)
bore trace of introgression by P. b. chloeae, suggesting past or present contact (Du-
fresnes et al. 2019b).
Ecology. Never studied as such, but this subspecies most likely shares a similar
ecology as the nominal subspecies (P. b. balcanicus). Inhabits open, at, lowland areas
with soft sandy soil near shallow ponds or ditches with aquatic vegetation for breeding,
as described for P. balcanicus (Dufresnes 2019). Mostly nocturnal and semi-fossorial:
comes out of the ground for foraging and breeding during / right after heavy rains.
Hence it can be observed in high numbers during winter-spring showers; ET counted
>70 individuals (mostly juveniles) in 15 min of search in late-October 2018 at the
type locality; usually active around 13–20°C, but also as low as 7°C (ET pers. obs.).
Diversity. Our P. b. chloeae samples featured the lowest nuclear genetic diver-
sity recorded across the entire ranges of P. balcanicus and P. syriacus (Dufresnes et al.
2019b). is implies that the Strofylia population and perhaps the subspecies as a
whole have been heavily bottlenecked. Two mtDNA haplotypes co-occur (Dufresnes
et al. 2019b). Genetic studies are urgently needed to assess the range and diversity of
this regional endemic.
Conservation Status Ioannidis and Mebert (2011) mentioned road casualties
at the type locality of this taxon, one of few extant populations. Although not evalu-
ated yet, this taxon is clearly threatened according to IUCN criteria; given the narrow
extent of occurrence (EOO), it should be listed as Critically Endangered (CR).
Christophe Dufresnes et al. / ZooKeys 859: 131–158 (2019)
150
Identication key
Based on our updated overview of the taxonomy and distribution of Pelobates, we
hereby provide a key to summarize the main discriminating features within this group.
Because several taxa are cryptic and lack diagnostic phenotypic dierences, geographic
origin remains an essential information.
1 Black spades on the hind legs ............................................................................ 2
Spades of light coloration .................................................................................. 3
2 Large body (6–9 cm) without orange dots, spades entirely black; Spain, Portugal
and southern France .......................................................................... P. cultripes
Small body (<6 cm) with orange dots, spades bordered with black; Morocco ......
.......................................................................................................... P. varaldii
3 Domed skull, developed webbing, and small body (<6 cm) ............................... 4
Flat skull, partial webbing, and large body (6–8 cm) ......................................... 5
4 Dorsum stripes rare; Central and northwestern Europe, west of a Crimea–Mos-
cow imaginary line .................................................................................P. fuscus
ree dorsum stripes often present; Eastern Europe and Central Asia, east of a
Crimea–Moscow imaginary line ....................................................P. vespertinus
5 Levantine region (Israel, Lebanon, and Syria) ........................P. syriacus syriacus
Caucasus and Caspian Sea shores, Anatolia, and European Turkey ......................
........................................................................................... P. syriacus boettgeri
Balkan Peninsula, except Peloponnese .......................... P. balcanicus balcanicus
– Peloponnese ...................................................................... P. balcanicus chloeae
Conclusions
Our phylogeographic analyses of Pelobates (Dufresnes et al. 2019b) called for a
taxonomic reassessment of this threatened amphibian group. We reviewed the evidence
for distinct Moroccan (P. varaldii), Iberian (P. cultripes), Central (P.fuscus), and Eastern
European (P. vespertinus) species. Furthermore, we revised the taxonomy of P. syriacus
by distinguishing two cryptic species, P. syriacus and P. balcanicus, and by considering
their strong intraspecic diversity into subspecic divisions, P. s. syriacus, P. s. boettgeri,
P.b. balcanicus, and P. b. chloeae, the latter as a newly described taxon. eir variation
in size and coloration are detailed and illustrated, based on a literature review and high-
quality photographs, respectively. Finally, our paper provides up-to-date whole-range
distribution maps for all extant Pelobates taxa.
Acknowledgements
We thank M. Pajković for translating publications from Serbo-Croatian, P. Lymberakis
(NHMC) for processing the type series of P. b. chloeae, A. Nöllert, G. Haimovitch, G.
Taxonomic revisions in Pelobates 151
Martinez, and A. Sanchez Vialas for sharing their pictures, P.-A. Crochet for taxonomic
advices and Nicolas Perrin for support. We are also grateful to T. Vukov, O. Zinenko,
A. Ohler, L. Ceriaco, and A. Crottini, as well as an anonymous reviewer, for their
expertise and useful feedback. M.D. is Research Director at Fonds de la Recherche sci-
entique (FNRS). is study was founded by a grant from the Swiss National Science
Foundation (SNSF) to Nicolas Perrin (no. 31003A_166323), and a SNSF fellowship
to CD (no. P2LAP3_171818).
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Supplementary material 1
Average snout-vent length in Pelobates populations
Authors: Christophe Dufresnes, Ilias Strachinis, Elias Tzoras, Spartak N. Litvinchuk,
Mathieu Denoël
Data type: measurement
Copyright notice: is dataset is made available under the Open Database License
(http://opendatacommons.org/licenses/odbl/1.0/). e Open Database License
(ODbL) is a license agreement intended to allow users to freely share, modify, and
use this Dataset while maintaining this same freedom for others, provided that the
original source and author(s) are credited.
Link: https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.859.33634.suppl1
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