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Molecular phylogeny of sea snakes reveals a rapidly diverged adaptive radiation

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Evolutionary relationships within and between the marine hydrophiine sea snake groups have been inferred primarily using morphological characters, and two major groups traditionally are recognized. The Aipysurus group comprises nine species in two genera, and the taxonomically chaotic Hydrophis group comprises as many as 40 species, of which 27 are generally allocated to the genus Hydrophis and 13 to ten additional genera. In addition to these two major groups are three putatively ‘primitive’ monotypic genera, Hydrelaps darwiniensis, Ephalophis greyi and Parahydrophis mertoni. The present study investigated the evolutionary relationships of 23 representative species of marine hydrophiines, comprising 15 species from the Hydrophis group, six species from the Aipysurus group, and H. darwiniensis and P. mertoni, to address two broad aims. First, the aim was to provide a robust phylogeny for sea snakes to test previous phylogenetic hypotheses based on morphology, and thus provide some taxonomic stability to the group. Second, there was interest in evaluating the hypothesis that the Hydrophis group might represent a rapidly diverged adaptive radiation. A large mitochondrial DNA data set based on the cytochrome b gene (1080 bp, 401 parsimony informative) and the 16S rRNA gene (510 bp, 57 parsimony informative) was assembled and these data were analysed using parsimony, maximum‐likelihood and Bayesian approaches. All analyses yielded virtually the same optimal tree, confirming that hydrophiine sea snakes comprise at least three lineages. The Aipysurus group formed a strongly supported and well‐resolved monophyletic clade. The Hydrophis group also formed a strongly supported clade; however, resolution among the genera and species was very poor. Hydrelaps darwiniensis and P. mertoni formed a sister clade to the Hydrophis lineage. Our phylogeny was used to test the validity of previous taxonomic and phylogenetic hypotheses, and to demonstrate that the genus Hydrophis is not monophyletic. Genetic diversity relative to phenotypic diversity is four to seven times greater in the Hydrophis lineage compared with the Aipysurus lineage. The topology of our phylogenetic hypothesis, combined with the levels of genetic divergence relative to morphological diversity, demonstrate that the Hydrophis lineage represents a rapidly diverged adaptive radiation. The data are consistent with the hypothesis that this adaptive radiation may be due to historical sea level fluctuations that have isolated populations and promoted speciation. © 2006 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2006, 89, 523–539.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia 2: School of Botany and Zoology, The Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

Publication date: 2006-11-01

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