Reassessment of Tantilla boipiranga (Serpentes: Colubrinae) and a preliminary approach to the phylogenetic affinities within Tantilla

Tantilla is one of the most diverse genera among colubrids, with 67 species arranged in six phenotypically recognized species groups. Tantilla boipiranga is the most recently described species within the T. melanocephala group, and it was described based on a small type series, collected in the rupestrian grasslands of south-eastern Brazil. The morphological diversity and the phylogenetic affinity of this species remain poorly known. Here, based on the assessment of recently collected specimens in combination with results of a molecular phylogenetic analysis, we evaluate the morphological variation within T. boipiranga and its phylogenetic position. Our analyses confirm T. boipiranga as genetically distinct from its generic counterparts, and diagnosable based on a combination of colour pattern, meristic counts, and hemipenial morphology. However, contrary to its original description, the hemipenial ornamentation does not differen-tiate T. boipiranga from the highly variable T. melanocephala. In our phylogenetic analysis, T. boipiranga is retrieved as a monophyletic group, nested within the diversity of T. melanocephala and sister to a clade composed by specimens from south-eastern Brazil. Tantilla melanocephala is recovered as a highly diverse lineage, indicating the possible presence of undescribed species. Additionally, our analysis indicates that the T. coronata and T. planiceps species group are mono-phyletic, while the T. taeniata species group is paraphyletic and the only sampled species for the T. calamarina group is nested within the T. melanocephala group. Our results suggest that the phenotypic evolution within the genus is probably more complex than previously recognized, and some colouration patterns used to define the groups can in fact represent phenotypical convergences. Moreover, our phylogenetic analysis suggests a strong signal of geographical structure in the tree topology. Three main geographical lineages were found, a North American, a South American and a Central Ameri-can. The first two lineages were recovered as monophyletic, while the latter is paraphyletic, with Central American species positioned as sister groups of both, the North American and the South American clades. Although a more comprehensive phylogenetic analysis is needed, our study strongly indicates the existence of hidden diversity within the T. melanocephala group and that Tantilla represents an ideal model to evaluate the validity of phenotypical groups in snake systematics and to study the driven mechanisms of morphological evolution.
Azevedo WDS, Franco FL, Thomassen H, de Castro T.M., Abegg AD, Leite F.S.F., et al. Reassessment of Tantilla boipiranga (Serpentes: Colubrinae) and a preliminary approach to the phylogenetic affinities within Tantilla. Salamandra. 2021 Aug;57(3):400-412
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