USGS Western Ecological Research Center

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Assessing Population Structure and Genetic Diversity in the Western Shovel-nosed snake (Chionactis occipitalis) across Arizona, with special emphasis on the validity of the Tucson Shovel-nosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis klauberi)

Chionactis occipitalis klauberi

Chionactis occipitalis (Western Shovel-nosed Snake) is a small colubrid snake inhabiting the arid regions of the Mojave, Sonoran, and Colorado deserts. Morphological assessments of taxonomy currently recognize four subspecies. However, these taxonomic proposals were largely based on weak morphological differentiation and inadequate geographic sampling. Our goal was to explore evolutionary relationships and boundaries among subspecies of C. occipitalis, with particular focus on individuals within the known range of C. o. klauberi (Tucson Shovelnosed snake). Population sizes and range for C. o. klauberi have declined over the last 25 years due to habitat alteration and loss prompting a petition to list this subspecies as endangered.


Project Details

We examined the phylogeography, population structure, and subspecific taxonomy of C. occipitalis across its geographic range with genetic analysis of 1100 bases of mitochondrial DNA sequence and reanalysis of 14 morphological characters from 1543 museum specimens. We estimated the species gene phylogeny from 81 snakes using Bayesian inference and explored possible factors influencing genetic variation using landscape genetic analyses. Phylogenetic and population genetic analyses reveal genetic isolation and independent evolutionary trajectories for two primary clades. Our data indicate that diversification between these clades has developed as a result of both historical vicariance and environmental isolating mechanisms. Thus these two clades likely comprise ‘evolutionary significant units’ (ESUs). Neither molecular nor morphological data are concordant with the traditional C. occipitalis subspecies taxonomy. Mitochondrial sequences suggest specimens recognized as C. o. klauberi are embedded in a larger geographic clade whose range has expanded from western Arizona populations, and these data are concordant with clinal longitudinal variation in morphology.


USGS Contact For This Project
Amy Vandergast
(619) 225-6445
San Diego Field Station
4165 Spruance Road Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92101
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