The snake family Psammophiidae (Reptilia: Serpentes): Phylogenetics and species delimitation in the African sand snakes (Psammophis Boie, 1825) and allied genera

Christopher M.R. Kelly, Nigel P. Barker, Martin H. Villet, Donald G. Broadley and William R. Branch



This study constitutes the first evolutionary investigation of the snake family Psammophiidae—the most widespread, most clearly defined, yet perhaps the taxonomically most problematic of Africa’s family-level snake lineages. Little is known of psammophiid evolutionary relationships, and the type genus Psammophis is one of the largest and taxonomically most complex of the African snake genera. Our aims were to reconstruct psammophiid phylogenetic relationships and to improve characterisation of species boundaries in problematic Psammophis species complexes. We used approximately 2500 bases of DNA sequence from the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes, and 114 terminals covering all psammophiid genera and incorporating approximately 75% of recognised species and subspecies. Phylogenetic reconstructions were conducted primarily in a Bayesian framework and we used the Wiens/Penkrot protocol to aid species delimitation. Rhamphiophis is diphyletic, with Rhamphiophis acutus emerging sister to Psammophylax. Consequently we transfer the three subspecies of Rhamphiophis acutus to the genus Psammophylax. The monotypic genus Dipsina is sister to Psammophis. The two species of Dromophis occupy divergent positions deeply nested within Psammophis, and we therefore relegate Dromophis to the synonymy of Psammophis. Our results allow division of the taxonomically problematic Psammophis ‘sibilans’ species complex into two monophyletic entities, provisionally named the ‘phillipsii’ and ‘subtaeniatus’ complexes. Within these two clades we found support for the status of many existing species, but not for a distinction between P.p. phillipsii and P. mossambicus. Additionally, P. cf. phillipsii occidentalis deserves species status as the sister taxon of P. brevirostris.

Full text at http://eprints.ru.ac.za/1929/5/Villet%20snake%20family%20Psammophiidae.pdf

Original source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1055790308001371