Fuzzy boundaries: color and gene flow patterns among parapatric lineages of the western shovel-nosed snake and taxonomic implication

PLoS ONE
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Abstract

Accurate delineation of lineage diversity is increasingly important, as species distributions are becoming more reduced and threatened. During the last century, the subspecies category was often used to denote phenotypic variation within a species range and to provide a framework for understanding lineage differentiation, often considered incipient speciation. While this category has largely fallen into disuse, previously recognized subspecies often serve as important units for conservation policy and management when other information is lacking. In this study, we evaluated phenotypic subspecies hypotheses within shovel-nosed snakes on the basis of genetic data and considered how evolutionary processes such as gene flow influenced possible incongruence between phenotypic and genetic patterns. We used both traditional phylogenetic and Bayesian clustering analyses to infer range-wide genetic structure and spatially explicit analyses to detect possible boundary locations of lineage contact. Multilocus analyses supported three historically isolated groups with low to moderate levels of contemporary gene exchange. Genetic data did not support phenotypic subspecies as exclusive groups, and we detected patterns of discordance in areas where three subspecies are presumed to be in contact. Based on genetic and phenotypic evidence, we suggested that species-level diversity is underestimated in this group and we proposed that two species be recognized, Chionactis occipitalis and C. annulata. In addition, we recommend retention of two subspecific designations within C. annulata (C. a. annulata and C. a. klauberi) that reflect regional shifts in both genetic and phenotypic variation within the species. Our results highlight the difficultly in validating taxonomic boundaries within lineages that are evolving under a time-dependent, continuous process.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Fuzzy boundaries: color and gene flow patterns among parapatric lineages of the western shovel-nosed snake and taxonomic implication
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0097494
Volume 9
Issue 5
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Public Library of Science
Publisher location San Francisco, CA
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description HTML Document
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title PLoS ONE