Hybridization between mtDNA-defined phylogeographic lineages of black ratsnakes (Pantherophis sp.)

H. Lisle Gibbs, Sarah J. Corey, Gabriel Blouin-Demers, Kent A. Prior, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phylogeographic analyses using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) have revealed many examples of apparently deep historical subdivisions ('phylogroups') within many vertebrates. It remains unclear whether these phylogroups represent independently evolving, adaptively differentiated lineages or groups that show little functional differentiation and, hence, will merge on contact. Here, we use mtDNA sequence data to evaluate the phylogeographic relationships between two of the northernmost populations of black ratsnakes (Pantherophis obsoletus complex) in Ontario, Canada and previously analysed populations in the United States. We then use population-level analyses to evaluate the level of adaptive divergence between previously established mtDNA phylogroups. Phylogenetic analyses show that southern Ontario snakes have mtDNA haplotypes that fall within the Central mtDNA phylogroup, as designated by Burbrink et al. (2000). In contrast, snakes in eastern Ontario carry either Central or Eastern-specific haplotypes. Within the hybrid region, we found highly variable frequencies of mtDNA haplotypes among isolated sub-populations, no association between variation in cytonuclear (mtDNA) and nuclear (microsatellite DNA) markers, no difference in survival or reproductive success among snakes with different mtDNA haplotypes, and no effect of mate similarity in mtDNA on female clutch size. These results argue that the Eastern and Central phylogroups have merged in this region, likely due to a lack of adaptive differentiation between individuals in each lineage. Hence, in these snakes, phylogeographic structure in mtDNA is more a reflection of historical isolation rather than adaptive divergence. The observed reticulation between lineages and lack of evidence for hybrid disgenesis also bears on the classification of these lineages as distinct species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3755-3767
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Black ratsnake
  • Hybridrization
  • Pantherophis obsoletus complex
  • Phylogeography
  • mtDNA phylogroups

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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