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Biol Lett. Aug 23, 2010; 6(4): 558–561.
Published online Mar 31, 2010. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2010.0220
PMCID: PMC2936224
Blindsnake evolutionary tree reveals long history on Gondwana
Nicolas Vidal,1* Julie Marin,1 Marina Morini,1 Steve Donnellan,2,3 William R. Branch,4 Richard Thomas,5 Miguel Vences,6 Addison Wynn,7 Corinne Cruaud,8 and S. Blair Hedges9*
1Département Systématique et Evolution, UMR 7138, C.P. 26, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, 57 rue Cuvier, F-75231 Paris cedex 05, France
2South Australian Museum, North Terrace, Adelaide 5000, Australia
3Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity, University of Adelaide 5005, Australia
4Bayworld, PO Box 13147, Humewood 6013, South Africa
5Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-3360, USA
6Zoological Institute, Technical University of Braunschweig, Spielmannstr. 8, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany
7Department of Vertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560-0162, USA
8Centre National de Séquençage, Genoscope, 2 rue Gaston-Crémieux, CP5706, 91057 Evry cedex, France
9Department of Biology, 208 Mueller Lab, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802-5301, USA
*Authors for correspondence (nvidal/at/mnhn.fr; sbh1/at/psu.edu).
Received March 3, 2010; Accepted March 8, 2010.
Abstract
Worm-like snakes (scolecophidians) are small, burrowing species with reduced vision. Although largely neglected in vertebrate research, knowledge of their biogeographical history is crucial for evaluating hypotheses of snake origins. We constructed a molecular dataset for scolecophidians with detailed sampling within the largest family, Typhlopidae (blindsnakes). Our results demonstrate that scolecophidians have had a long Gondwanan history, and that their initial diversification followed a vicariant event: the separation of East and West Gondwana approximately 150 Ma. We find that the earliest blindsnake lineages, representing two new families described here, were distributed on the palaeolandmass of India+Madagascar named here as Indigascar. Their later evolution out of Indigascar involved vicariance and several oceanic dispersal events, including a westward transatlantic one, unexpected for burrowing animals. The exceptional diversification of scolecophidians in the Cenozoic was probably linked to a parallel radiation of prey (ants and termites) as well as increased isolation of populations facilitated by their fossorial habits.
Keywords: biogeography, squamates, snakes, dispersal, vicariance
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