Ultraconserved elements-based phylogenomic systematics of the snake superfamily Elapoidea, with the description of a new Afro-Asian family

Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2023 Mar:180:107700. doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2022.107700. Epub 2023 Jan 2.


The highly diverse snake superfamily Elapoidea is considered to be a classic example of ancient, rapid radiation. Such radiations are challenging to fully resolve phylogenetically, with the highly diverse Elapoidea a case in point. Previous attempts at inferring a phylogeny of elapoids produced highly incongruent estimates of their evolutionary relationships, often with very low statistical support. We sought to resolve this situation by sequencing over 4,500 ultraconserved element loci from multiple representatives of every elapoid family/subfamily level taxon and inferring their phylogenetic relationships with multiple methods. Concatenation and multispecies coalescent based species trees yielded largely congruent and well-supported topologies. Hypotheses of a hard polytomy were not retained for any deep branches. Our phylogenies recovered Cyclocoridae and Elapidae as diverging early within Elapoidea. The Afro-Malagasy radiation of elapoid snakes, classified as multiple subfamilies of an inclusive Lamprophiidae by some earlier authors, was found to be monophyletic in all analyses. The genus Micrelaps was consistently recovered as sister to Lamprophiidae. We establish a new family, Micrelapidae fam. nov., for Micrelaps and assign Brachyophis to this family based on cranial osteological synapomorphy. We estimate that Elapoidea originated in the early Eocene and rapidly diversified into all the major lineages during this epoch. Ecological opportunities presented by the post-Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event may have promoted the explosive radiation of elapoid snakes.

Keywords: Elapoidea; Micrelapidae fam. nov.; Phylogeny; UCE; Ultraconserved elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Phylogeny
  • Snakes* / genetics