The biogeography of deep time phylogenetic reticulation

Frank T. Burbrink, Marcelo Gehara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Most phylogenies are typically represented as purely bifurcating. However, as genomic data have become more common in phylogenetic studies, it is not unusual to find reticulation among terminal lineages or among internal nodes (deep time reticulation; DTR). In these situations, gene flow must have happened in the same or adjacent geographic areas for these DTRs to have occurred and therefore biogeographic reconstruction should provide similar area estimates for parental nodes, provided extinction or dispersal has not eroded these patterns. We examine the phylogeny of the widely distributed New World kingsnakes (Lampropeltis), determine if DTR is present in this group, and estimate the ancestral area for reticulation. Importantly, we develop a new method that uses coalescent simulations in a machine learning framework to show conclusively that this phylogeny is best represented as reticulating at deeper time. Using joint probabilities of ancestral area reconstructions on the bifurcating parental lineages from the reticulating node, we show that this reticulation likely occurred in northwestern Mexico/southwestern US, and subsequently, led to the diversification of the Mexican kingsnakes. This region has been previously identified as an area important for understanding speciation and secondary contact with gene flow in snakes and other squamates. This research shows that phylogenetic reticulation is common, even in well-studied groups, and that the geographic scope of ancient hybridization is recoverable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)743-755
Number of pages13
JournalSystematic biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


  • Hybridization
  • Kingsnakes
  • Mexico
  • Neural networks


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