Phylogeography of the false smooth snakes, Macroprotodon (Serpentes, Colubridae): mitochondrial DNA sequences show European populations arrived recently from Northwest Africa.

Original article


Carranza S, Arnold EN, Wade E, Fahd S.

Departament de Biologia Animal, Universitat de Barcelona, Av. Diagonal 645, E-08028 Barcelona, Spain.

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2004 Dec;33(3):523-32.


Mitochondrial DNA (1075 bp: cytochrome b, 300 bp; 12S rRNA, 393 bp; and 16S rRNA, 382 bp) corroborates the monophyly of the genus Macroprotodon and of the species M. mauritanicus, M. abubakeri, and M. brevis. The subspecies M. brevis ibericus is also monophyletic. The mtDNA tree presented here indicates that M. cucullatus consists of at least two separate units and may possibly represent a primitive morphology rather than a species in its own right. However, this hypothesis is tentative since it is only reflects the history of a single evolutionary unit (mtDNA). A definitive understanding of the evolution of M. cucullatus will not be possible until informative nuclear markers are added to the mitochondrial data. Macroprotodon appears to have originated in the Maghreb region of NW Africa and speciated there around 4-5.5 million years ago around the end of the Miocene period, after which its three main lineages may each have expanded north into more mesic conditions. The group also spread eastwards into coastal areas of Libya quite recently and on to Egypt and Israel. Later still, M. b. ibericus from extreme north Morocco reached the Iberian Peninsula, and M. mauritanicus from Tunisia or Algeria colonised the Balearic Islands of Menorca and Mallorca. Both these range extensions may result from very recent natural colonisations or even from accidental human introduction. Recency of origin of Iberian and Balearic populations is indicated by uniformity of their mtDNA even across large distances, and its great similarity to that of populations in source regions. Isolated populations assigned to M. cucullatus in the Hoggar mountains (southern Algeria) and Western Sahara are probably relicts from quite recent periods of climatic amelioration in the North African desert.

Keywords: Mitochondrial DNA; Cytochrome b; 12S rRNA; 16S rRNA; Evolution; Phylogeography; Dispersal; Colonisation