Genome-wide SNPs clarify lineage diversity confused by coloration in coralsnakes of the Micrurus diastema species complex (Serpentes: Elapidae)

Jacobo Reyes-Velasco, Richard H. Adams, Stephane Boissinot, Christopher L. Parkinson, Jonathan A. Campbell, Todd A. Castoe, Eric N. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


New world coralsnakes of the genus Micrurus are a diverse radiation of highly venomous and brightly colored snakes that range from North Carolina to Argentina. Species in this group have played central roles in developing and testing hypotheses about the evolution of mimicry and aposematism. Despite their diversity and prominence as model systems, surprisingly little is known about species boundaries and phylogenetic relationships within Micrurus, which has substantially hindered meaningful analyses of their evolutionary history. Here we use mitochondrial genes together with thousands of nuclear genomic loci obtained via ddRADseq to study the phylogenetic relationships and population genomics of a subclade of the genus Micrurus: The M. diastema species complex. Our results indicate that prior species and species-group inferences based on morphology and color pattern have grossly misguided taxonomy, and that the M. diastema complex is not monophyletic. Based on our analyses of molecular data, we infer the phylogenetic relationships among species and populations, and provide a revised taxonomy for the group. Two non-sister species-complexes with similar color patterns are recognized, the M. distans and the M. diastema complexes, the first being basal to the monadal Micrurus and the second encompassing most North American monadal taxa. We examined all 13 species, and their respective subspecies, for a total of 24 recognized taxa in the M. diastema species complex. Our analyses suggest a reduction to 10 species, with no subspecific designations warranted, to be a more likely estimate of species diversity, namely, M. apiatus, M. browni, M. diastema, M. distans, M. ephippifer, M. fulvius, M. michoacanensis, M. oliveri, M. tener, and one undescribed species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106770
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Biogeography
  • Central America
  • Snake evolution
  • Systematics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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