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Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2009 Dec;53(3):653-67. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2009.07.022. Epub 2009 Jul 28.

Complex evolution in the Neotropics: the origin and diversification of the widespread genus Leptodeira (Serpentes: Colubridae).

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL 32816, USA.


Lineage diversification in the Neotropics is an interesting topic in evolutionary biology but is also one of the least understood. The abiotic and biotic complexity of the region precludes generalizations that can be drawn regarding the historical evolutionary processes responsible for the diversity observed. The snake genus Leptodeira provides an excellent opportunity to investigate such processes because it spans the entire Neotropical region. In this study, we infer the phylogenetic position of Leptodeira within Dipsadinae, estimate evolutionary relationships among and within Leptodeira species, and estimate the diversification time and biogeography of the genus. Three mitochondrial gene regions were sequenced for individuals representing all the Leptodeira species and most subspecies currently recognized. Additionally, two nuclear protein-coding gene regions were sequenced for representatives of each species and several genera within the Dipsadinae. We infer that several Leptodeira species are either paraphyletic or polyphyletic as currently recognized, and that most recognized subspecies are not monophyletic lineages. Despite the taxonomic discordance with evolutionary relationships, clades appear to correspond very well to major biogeographic regions of Mexico, Central America and South America. Our results thus highlight the important role of the Miocene and Pliocene for lineage diversification in the Neotropics. Additionally, our time estimates suggest that recent intraspecific phylogeographic structure is likely the result of habitat and climatic fluctuations during the Pleistocene. Cumulatively, our inferences of lineage diversification within Leptodeira suggest a complex evolutionary scenario in the Mexican transition zone and a north to south expansion with a final colonization of the tropics in South America.

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