This study was made possible by the Best Environment Research Award granted to NPRP 09-546-2-206 at the QF Annual Research Forum in 2011. The disappearing Barchan dunes are the sole habitat to the eastern sandfish Scincus mitranus in Qatar. We hypothesized that each dune represents its own self-contained ecosystem, acting as an island habitat to the S. mitranus. For the first time in Qatar, a total of 108 sandfish were captured and tagged from 5 terrestrial and 3 coastal Barchan dunes in the south-eastern part of Qatar over a period of 10 months. DNA from the tails of 62 individuals was extracted for genetic analysis. The length of sandfish observed in the Barchans ranged from 6 to 29 cm, with a weight range of 2-47 g. Recapture data showed that there was no migration between dunes over 10 months, possibly indicating that each dune represents its own self-contained ecosystem. In contrast, based on the phylogenetic analyses performed using the genes 12S rRNA, cytochrome oxidase I (COI) and the composite (multi-locus) made of these 2 genes together, we conclude that there is no geographic clustering separation based on dune location. This indicates that dunes do not act as islands. Sandfish may move, procreate and cross-recruit among the dunes over a period greater than our survey time (>10 months) or when dunes collide and separate over longer time periods. We also found that Qatar sandfish form distinct and well separated clusters from the outgroup gene sequences of the Madagascar S. mitranus (COI gene) and the Saharan S. mitranus (12S rRNA gene). This is the first effort to characterize the ecology of the Scincus mitranus in Qatar through field surveys and metagenomic analyses and as such it serves as a baseline to future studies on this unique species.


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