Dr. Philip - Sebastian Gehring

Wertherstr. 83

33615 Bielefeld


Scientific Interests

The herpetology is the branch of zoology concerned with the study of amphibians and reptiles. Iīm especially interested in Madagascarīs unique herpetofauna. Madagascar is famous for its biodiversity and its high prevalence of microendemic species, particularly among amphibians and reptiles. Most of these are forest dwelling and have high species-level turnover on very small geographic scales. Therefore Madagascar is especially suitable for studies on speciation and adaptive radiation, because the species-richness and the several endemic radiations allow statistical comparisons of evolutionary patterns, once sufficient information is available.
Amphibians and reptiles represent ideal groups to serve as a case study to explore differentiation patterns and dispersal processes, because of their high species richness, with more than 245 amphibian species and more than 365 reptile species known to science and the high levels of endemism for Madagascar (100% of the amphibians and 92% of the reptiles) with high levels of regional microendemism within Madagascar.  
New methods and techniques in evolutionary biology have increased the insight and knowledge in the understanding what species are and little doubt remains that a variety of modes of speciation have contributed to the origin of the present diversity of species. But species diversification and the triggers driving the diversification process still remain controversial and are subject to numerous ongoing research projects.

My PhD project provides data on distribution ranges, taxonomy, phylogeny, phylogeography and population genetics of selected amphibian and reptile species of Madagascar’s east coast obtained by a distinct a-priori-sampling design along a ca. 1,000km transect along the east coast, aiming to contribute to the understanding of the diversity and evolutionary processes that shaped eastern Madagascar’s unique herpetofauna. The dense geographic sampling and geo-referencing of species to document distributions of samples accurately, was then used to address a range of phylogenetic and phylogeographic questions. The a priori sampling design was guided by the assumptions of the analytical methods to be used and included as another parameter in analyses to evaluate the impact of sampling on the inferences.

Based on the results of this thesis I (1) contributed to filling several major sampling gaps for amphibians and reptiles of Madagascar’s east coast; (2) provided crucial information on natural history, species distributions, species assemblages and diversity patterns; (3) proposed identification of important regions for further research and in situ conservation activities; (4) collected many important tissue samples and voucher specimen, which will be an important source for future research projects; (5) discovered previously unknown i) deep conspecific genetic lineages , ii) (yet) unconfirmed candidate species and iii) confirmed candidate species, leading in several cases to a formal description of new species; (6) reconstructed and assessed phylogenetic relations among and within species that revealed unknown genetic variation and allows the delineating of taxonomic units; (7) increased the knowledge on past and present biogeographic patterns and processes which have triggered speciation along Madagascar’s east coast.

Behavioural ecology of Chameleons 

During my studies at the University of Bielefeld I specialized on animal behaviour and ecology. For my first State examination thesis ("Habitat use and activity patterns of  Pantherchameleons (Furcifer pardalis) - Analysis of radiotelemtric data.") I worked at the Masoala -Rainforest exhibit at Zurich Zoo and observed free-ranging Pantherchameleons with the help of radio telemetry. In my thesis I discuss questions on the behaviuoral ecology of the anmials as well as practical problems of radio telemetry on aborical reptiles.   

Another point of interest is the study of chameleon behaviour. Chameleons are well known for their colourful appearance and their ability to change colours. Although the possibility of tetra-chromatic vision is indicated, UV – reflecting colouration patterns have not been well studied in Chameleons so far. My study provides first data on UV– reflecting patterns of body colouration in malagasy chameleons. Three malagasy chameleon species (Furcifer pardalis, Furcifer lateralis and Furcifer oustaleti) were investigated in terms of UV – reflectance in body colouration, using a reflectance spectrophotometer. The data indicated that several body regions reflected in the UV, i.e. within 300 – 400 nm.