Snake relationships revealed by slow-evolving proteins: a preliminary survey



We present an initial evaluation of relationships among a diverse sample of 215 species of snakes (8% of the world snake fauna) representing nine of the 16 commonly-recognized families. Allelic variation at four slow-evolving. protein-coding loci, detected by starch-gel electrophoresis, was found to be informative for estimating relationships among these species at several levels. The numerous alleles detected at these loci [Arp-2 (42 alleles). Ltlh-2 (43), Mdh-1 (29), Pgm (Z)] provided unexpected clarity in partitioning these taxa. Most congeneric species and several closely-related genera have the same allele at all four loci or differ at only a single locus. At thc other extreme are those species with three or four unique alleles; these taxa cannot be placed in this analysis. Species sharing two or three distinctive alleles are those most clearly separated into clades. Typhlopids, pythonids, viperids, and elapids were resolved into individual clades. whereas bods were separated into boincs and erycines, and colubrids appeared as scveral distinct clades (colubrines, natricines, psammophines, homalopsines, and xenodontines). Viperids were recognized as a major division containing three separate clades: Asian and American crotalines. Pabearctic and Oriental viperines, and Ethiopian causines. The typhlopids were found to be the basal clade, with the North American erycine boid Chrrrino and the West Indian woodsnakes Tropidophi, Y near the base. A number of species and some small clades were not allocated because of uninformative (common, unique, or conflicting) alleles. Of the 21 S species examined, five to eight appear to have been misplaced in the analysis of these electrophoretic data.