Choosing among hypotheses of rattlesnake phylogeny a best fit rate test for dna sequence data

Alec Knight, David Styer, Jonathan A. Campbell, Stephan Pelikan, Llewellyn D. Densmore, David P. Mindell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Large head scales distinguish the three species of Sistrurus from other rattlesnakes assigned to the speciose genus Crotalus, but this trait is plesiomorphic and therefore not indicative of monophyly. Do rattlesnakes comprise two clades, one with large head scales and one with fragmented head scales, or must the traditional taxonomy of this group be revised? Evidence from comparative DNA sequence analysis of portions of the 12S and 16S mitochondrial ribosomal RNA genes supports the monophyly of Sistrurus. These data also suggest that rattlesnakes are monophyletic with a mid-Cenozoic origin. A phylogenetic hypothesis is proposed that is congruent with morphological and DNA sequence data. Alternative hypotheses were close in length, and the monophyly of Sistrurus was rather unstable, as determined by bootstrap resampling. Maximum parsimony failed to identify the correct tree topology (as indicated by morphology). Character-state differences, as determined by patristic and pairwise measures, were observed between an outgroup {Agkistrodon) and each rattlesnake species. The tree that agreed best with relative rates of evolution as determined by pairwise comparisons was chosen. A monophyletic Sistrurus was favored over competing alternatives by this best-fit rate test. [Systematics; evolution; molecular phylogenetics; mitochondrial DNA; rRNA genes; Viperidae; Crotalinae.].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-367
Number of pages12
JournalSystematic biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1993


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