Uncoupling ecological innovation and speciation in sea snakes (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae, Hydrophiini)

Kate Laura Sanders, Mumpuni, Michael S.Y. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


The viviparous sea snakes (Hydrophiini) are by far the most successful living marine reptiles, with ~60 species that comprise a prominent component of shallow-water marine ecosystems throughout the Indo-West Pacific. Phylogenetically nested within the ~100 species of terrestrial Australo-Melanesian elapids (Hydrophiinae), molecular timescales suggest that the Hydrophiini are also very young, perhaps only ~8-13 Myr old. Here, we use likelihood-based analyses of combined phylogenetic and taxonomic data for Hydrophiinae to show that the initial invasion of marine habitats was not accompanied by elevated diversification rates. Rather, a dramatic three to six-fold increase in diversification rates occurred at least 3-5 Myr after this transition, in a single nested clade: the Hydrophis group accounts for ~80% of species richness in Hydrophiini and ~35% of species richness in (terrestrial and marine) Hydrophiinae. Furthermore, other co-distributed lineages of viviparous sea snakes (and marine Laticauda, Acrochordus and homalopsid snakes) are not especially species rich. Invasion of the oceans has not (by itself) accelerated diversification in Hydrophiini; novelties characterizing the Hydrophis group alone must have contributed to its evolutionary and ecological success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2685-2693
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • Diversification rate
  • Hydrophiini
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Sea snakes


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