Demographic analyses of marine and terrestrial snakes (Elapidae) using whole genome sequences

Alastair J. Ludington, Kate L. Sanders

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The question of whether spatial aspects of evolution differ in marine versus terrestrial realms has endured since Ernst Mayr's 1954 essay on marine speciation. Marine systems are often suggested to support larger and more highly connected populations, but quantitative comparisons with terrestrial systems have been lacking. Here, we compared the population histories of marine and terrestrial elapid snakes using the pairwise sequentially Markovian coalescent (PSMC) model to track historical fluctuations in species’ effective population sizes (Ne) from individual whole-genome sequences. To do this we generated a draft genome for the olive sea snake (Aiysurus laevis) and analysed this alongside six published elapid genomes and their sequence reads (marine species Hydrophis curtus, H. melanocephalus and Laticauda laticaudata; terrestrial species Pseudonaja textilis, Naja Naja and Notechis scutatus). Counter to the expectation that marine species should show higher overall Ne and less pronounced fluctuations in Ne, our analyses reveal demographic patterns that are highly variable among species and do not clearly correspond to major ecological divisions. At deeper time intervals, the four marine elapids appear to have experienced relatively stable Ne, while each terrestrial species shows a prominent upturn in Ne starting at ~4 million years ago (Ma) followed by an equally strong decline. However, over the last million years, all seven species show strong and divergent fluctuations. Estimates of Ne in the most recent intervals (~10 kya) are lowest in two of four marine species (H. melanocephalus and Laticauda), and do not correspond to contemporary range sizes in marine or terrestrial taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-554
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Elapid snake
  • PSMC
  • effective population size
  • marine
  • terrestrial
  • whole genome sequencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics

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