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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2008 Aug;48(2):543-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2008.04.008. Epub 2008 Apr 14.

Demographic and phylogeographic histories of two venomous North American snakes of the genus Agkistrodon.

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Department of Biology, 6S-143, College of Staten Island, 2800 Victory Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10314, USA.


Many studies have revealed that lineages currently inhabiting formerly glaciated areas were pushed into southern glacial refugia and have expanded into their modern range since the last glacial maximum. There have been few studies that compare the effects of glacial cycles on lineage diversification and historical demography in closely related species with overlapping ranges. In this study we compare phylogeographic structure, historical demography, and approximate lineage age in two closely related and broadly co-occurring venomous snakes in eastern North America, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) and copperhead (A. contortrix) using sequences from the mtDNA gene cytochrome b. We inferred three geographic lineages of A. contortrix and two of A. piscivorus with no common geographic or temporal pattern of lineage diversification identified for these species. Lineage diversification occurred in the Late Pliocene for A. piscivorus (approximately 2.5mya) and in the Early Pleistocene for A. contortrix ( approximately 1.5mya). Demographic estimates revealed population expansion following the last glacial maximum (approximately 20,000 years ago) in two lineages of A. contortrix (the Central clade and Eastern clade) and one lineage of A. piscivorus (the Continental clade). The Florida clade of A. piscivorus is the only lineage for which constant population size through time was inferred, possibly due to stable populations persisting in areas unaffected by glacial advances. Our data suggest that unique habitat preferences may have shaped both the phylogeographic and demographic histories of each species.

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