Phylogeny and conservation status of the Indian egg-eater snake, Elachistodon westermanni Reinhardt, 1863 (Serpentes, Colubridae): Supplementary material
2018-05-28T08:56:29Z (GMT) by
The Indian egg-eater (<i>Elachistodon westermanni</i>) is a monotypic species of the Genus <i>Elachistodon</i> distributed across the Indian sub-continent. In Africa, there are 13 species of egg-eating snakes of the Genus <i>Dasypeltis</i>. These two genera, <i>Elachistodon </i>and <i>Dasypeltis</i> were thought to be closely related due to similar diet specialization, and shared biogeographic history between the Indian sub-continent and the continent of Africa. In our study, we amplified three mitochondrial genes and one nuclear gene from <i>E. westermanni</i> and reconstructed molecular phylogeny utilizing published sequences to understand the evolutionary relationships between the African, and the Indian egg-eating snakes. We used morphological characters to reinforce our inferences on phylogenetic relationships. We show that the Indian egg-eater is sister to a set of cat snakes of the Genus <i>Boiga</i>,<i> </i>and it does not share recent ancestry with the African egg-eating snakes. Morphological character states point at similarities between <i>Elachistodon </i>and<i> Dasypeltis</i> only in characters associated with their feeding behaviour. <i>Elachistodon</i> <i>westermanni</i> was similar to the <i>Boiga </i>spp<i>.</i> in several other morphological characters, and we provisionally assign <i>E. westermanni</i> under the genus <i>Boiga</i>. Compilation of records of <i>E. westermanni</i> across the Indian sub-continent over the years revealed a positive "Lazarus" effect. We conclude that, the egg-eating behaviour and the associated morphological characters in the snake genera <i>Dasypeltis</i> and <i>Elachistodon </i>are a result of convergent evolution. Based on the conservation status of <i>E. westermanni</i>, it could serve as a flagship species to conserve important wildlife habitats that are being lost rapidly in India.