A near-complete species-level phylogeny of uropeltid snakes harnessing historical museum collections as a DNA source

Filipa L. Sampaio, Julia J. Day, L. J. Mendis Wickramasinghe, Vivek P. Cyriac, Anna Papadopoulou, Selina Brace, Albert Rajendran, Cornelia Simon-Nutbrown, Tomas Flouris, Paschalia Kapli, Dulan Ranga Vidanapathirana, Ramachandran Kotharambath, Ullasa Kodandaramaiah, David J. Gower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Uropeltidae is a clade of small fossorial snakes (ca. 64 extant species) endemic to peninsular India and Sri Lanka. Uropeltid taxonomy has been confusing, and the status of some species has not been revised for over a century. Attempts to revise uropeltid systematics and undertake evolutionary studies have been hampered by incompletely sampled and incompletely resolved phylogenies. To address this issue, we take advantage of historical museum collections, including type specimens, and apply genome-wide shotgun (GWS) sequencing, along with recent field sampling (using Sanger sequencing) to establish a near-complete multilocus species-level phylogeny (ca. 87% complete at species level). This results in a phylogeny that supports the monophyly of all genera (if Brachyophidium is considered a junior synonym of Teretrurus), and provides a firm platform for future taxonomic revision. Sri Lankan uropeltids are probably monophyletic, indicating a single colonisation event of this island from Indian ancestors. However, the position of Rhinophis goweri (endemic to Eastern Ghats, southern India) is unclear and warrants further investigation, and evidence that it may nest within the Sri Lankan radiation indicates a possible recolonisation event. DNA sequence data and morphology suggest that currently recognised uropeltid species diversity is substantially underestimated. Our study highlights the benefits of integrating museum collections in molecular genetic analyses and their role in understanding the systematics and evolutionary history of understudied organismal groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107651
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Early online date25 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • High-throughput sequencing
  • Historical DNA
  • India
  • Phylogenetics
  • Reptilia
  • Shieldtail snakes
  • Species delimitation
  • Sri Lanka
  • Systematics
  • Uropeltidae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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