Phylogenetic relationships of North American garter snakes (Thamnophis) based on four mitochondrial genes: how much DNA sequence is enough?Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2002 Feb; 22(2):315-29.MP
The clade of garter snakes (Thamnophis) includes some of the most abundant and well-studied snakes in North America. However, phylogenetic relationships within this group have been little studied. We used DNA sequences of four mitochondrial genes (cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunits 1, 2, and 4) to estimate relationships among 29 of the 31 recognized species of Thamnophis plus the related species Adelophis foxi. Both maximum parsimony (MP) and maximum-likelihood (ML) analyses of all these genes combined produced well-resolved trees with moderate (70-89%) to strong (90-100%) bootstrap support for most clades. MP and ML trees were very similar, with no strongly supported conflict between the two analyses. These analyses identify a clade of 12 species largely restricted to México (the "Mexican clade"), and a clade containing 15 species that collectively range from Central America to southern Canada (the "widespread clade"). These two groups are identified as sister taxa in both MP and ML analyses. A clade consisting of the ribbon snakes (T. sauritus and T. proximus) and the common garter snake (T. sirtalis) is placed as the sister group to all other Thamnophis (i.e., the Mexican + widespread clades) in our analyses. High bootstrap proportions at several levels in the tree support the inclusion of both Thamnophis validus, which has traditionally been placed in the genus Nerodia, and the poorly known species Adelophis foxi within Thamnophis. We used randomly sampled characters (i.e., standard bootstrapping) and randomly sampled contiguous blocks of characters to examine the effect of number of characters on resolution of and support for relationships within Thamnophis using MP. In general, these analyses indicate that we have reached a point of strongly diminishing returns with respect to the effect of adding mtDNA sequence characters for the current set of taxa; our sample of 3809 mtDNA characters is apparently "enough." The next steps to improve the phylogenetic estimate may be to add nuclear DNA sequences, morphology, or behavior, or to sequence additional mtDNA lineages within species.