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How mitonuclear discordance and geographic variation have confounded species boundaries in a widely studied snake

Citation

Marshall, Thomas; Chambers, E. Anne; Matz, Mikhail; Hillis, David (2021), How mitonuclear discordance and geographic variation have confounded species boundaries in a widely studied snake, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.cc2fqz64d

Abstract

As DNA sequencing technologies and methods for delimiting species with genomic data become more accessible and numerous, researchers have more tools than ever to investigate questions in systematics and phylogeography. However, easy access to sophisticated computational tools is not without its drawbacks. Choosing the right approach for one’s question can be challenging when presented with multitudinous options, some of which fail to distinguish between species and intraspecific population structure. Here, we employ a methodology that emphasizes intensive geographic sampling, particularly at contact zones between populations, with a focus on differentiating intraspecific genetic clusters from species in the Pantherophis guttatus complex, a group of North American ratsnakes. Using a mitochondrial marker as well as ddRADseq data, we find evidence of mitonuclear discordance which has contributed to historical confusion about the relationships within this group. Additionally, we identify geographically and genetically structured populations within the species Pantherophis emoryi that are congruent with previously described morphological variation. Importantly, we find that these structured populations within P. emoryi are highly admixed throughout the range of the species and show no evidence of any reproductive isolation. Our data support a revision of the taxonomy of this group, and we recognize two species within the complex and three subspecies within P. emoryi. This study illustrates the importance of thorough sampling of contact zones and consideration of gene flow when delimiting species in widespread complexes containing parapatric lineages.

Funding

University of Texas at Austin

Texas Academy of Science

National Science Foundation Division of Graduate Education