Accurate species delimitation and description are necessary to guide effective conservation of imperiled species, and this synergy is maximized when multiple data sources are used to delimit species. We illustrate this point by examining Drymarchon couperi (Eastern Indigo Snake), a large, federally-protected species in North America that was recently divided into two species based on gene sequence data from three loci and heuristic morphological assessment. Here, we re-evaluate the two-species hypothesis for D. couperi by evaluating both population genetic and gene sequence data. Our analyses of 14 microsatellite markers revealed 6-8 genetic population clusters with significant admixture, particularly across the contact zone between the two hypothesized species. Phylogenetic analyses of gene sequence data with maximum-likelihood methods suggested discordance between mitochondrial and nuclear markers and provided phylogenetic support for one species rather than two. For these reasons, we place Drymarchon kolpobasileus into synonymy with D. couperi. We suggest inconsistent patterns between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA are driven by high dispersal of males relative to females. We advocate for species delimitation exercises that evaluate admixture and gene flow in addition to phylogenetic analyses, particularly when the latter reveal monophyletic lineages. This is particularly important for taxa, such as squamates, that exhibit strong sex-biased dispersal. Problems associated with over-delimitation of species richness can become particularly acute for threatened and endangered species, because of high costs to conservation when taxonomy demands protection of more individual species than are supported by accumulating data.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)