Phylogeny, diversity and biogeography of Neotropical sipo snakes (Serpentes: Colubrinae: Chironius)
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Neotropical sipo snakes (Chironius) are large diurnal snakes with a long tail and big eyes that differ from other Neotropical snakes in having 10 or 12 dorsal scale rows at midbody. The 22 currently recognized species occur from Central America south to Uruguay and northeastern Argentina. Based on the largest geographical sampling to date including ∼90% of all species, we analyzed one nuclear and three mitochondrial genes using phylogenetic methods to (1) test the monophyly of Chironius and some of its widely distributed species; (2) identify lineages that could represent undescribed species; and (3) reconstruct ancestral distributions. Our best hypothesis placed C. grandisquamis (Chocoan Rainforest) + C. challenger (Pantepui) as sister to all other species. Based on phylogeny and geographic distribution, we identified 14 subclades as putative species within Chironius fuscus, C. multiventris (including C. foveatus and C. laurenti), C. monticola, and C. exoletus. Under current taxonomy, these species show nearly twice as much genetic diversity as other species of Chironius for ND4. Biogeographical analyses using BioGeoBEARS suggest that current distribution patterns of Chironius species across South America resulted from multiple range expansions. The MRCA of the clade C. challenger + C. grandisquamis was most likely distributed over the Pantepui region, the Andes, and the Chocoan Rainforest, whereas the remaining lineages probably evolved from an Amazonian ancestor.