Coalescent species delimitation in Milksnakes (Genus Lampropeltis) and impacts on phylogenetic comparative analyses

Sara Ruane, Robert W. Bryson, R. Alexander Pyron, Frank T. Burbrink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Both gene-tree discordance and unrecognized diversity are sources of error for accurate estimation of species trees, and can affect downstream diversification analyses by obscuring the correct number of nodes, their density, and the lengths of the branches subtending them. Although the theoretical impact of gene-tree discordance on evolutionary analyses has been examined previously, the effect of unsampled and cryptic diversity has not. Here, we examine how delimitation of previously unrecognized diversity in the milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) and use of a species-tree approach affects both estimation of the Lampropeltis phylogeny and comparative analyses with respect to the timing of diversification. Coalescent species delimitation indicates that L. triangulum is not monophyletic and that there are multiple species of milksnake, which increases the known species diversity in the genus Lampropeltis by 40%. Both genealogical and temporal discordance occurs between gene trees and the species tree, with evidence that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) introgression is a main factor. This discordance is further manifested in the preferred models of diversification, where the concatenated gene tree strongly supports an early burst of speciation during the Miocene, in contrast to species-tree estimates where diversification follows a birth-death model and speciation occurs mostly in the Pliocene and Pleistocene. This study highlights the crucial interaction among coalescent-based phylogeography and species delimitation, systematics, and species diversification analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-250
Number of pages20
JournalSystematic biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


  • Divergence-time estimation
  • Lampropeltini
  • Pleistocene diversification
  • diversification rates
  • gene-tree/species-tree discordance
  • mtDNA introgression

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