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J Evol Biol. 2010 Dec;23(12):2685-93. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02131.x. Epub 2010 Oct 12.

Uncoupling ecological innovation and speciation in sea snakes (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae, Hydrophiini).

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Darling Building, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia.


The viviparous sea snakes (Hydrophiini) are by far the most successful living marine reptiles, with ∼ 60 species that comprise a prominent component of shallow-water marine ecosystems throughout the Indo-West Pacific. Phylogenetically nested within the ∼ 100 species of terrestrial Australo-Melanesian elapids (Hydrophiinae), molecular timescales suggest that the Hydrophiini are also very young, perhaps only ∼ 8-13 Myr old. Here, we use likelihood-based analyses of combined phylogenetic and taxonomic data for Hydrophiinae to show that the initial invasion of marine habitats was not accompanied by elevated diversification rates. Rather, a dramatic three to six-fold increase in diversification rates occurred at least 3-5 Myr after this transition, in a single nested clade: the Hydrophis group accounts for ∼ 80% of species richness in Hydrophiini and ∼ 35% of species richness in (terrestrial and marine) Hydrophiinae. Furthermore, other co-distributed lineages of viviparous sea snakes (and marine Laticauda, Acrochordus and homalopsid snakes) are not especially species rich. Invasion of the oceans has not (by itself) accelerated diversification in Hydrophiini; novelties characterizing the Hydrophis group alone must have contributed to its evolutionary and ecological success.

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