Phylogenetic and Morphological Analysis of the Western Himalayan Pitviper, Gloydius himalayanus

Santra, Vishal

Simultala Conservationists (Foundation for Wildlife) West Bengal, 712407, India

Captive and Field Herpetology

Wales, UK

Kuttalam, Sourish

School of Natural Sciences

Bangor University

Gwynedd, UK

Benjamin Owens, John

Captive and Field Herpetology Wales, UK

Selvan, Melvin

Endangered Wildlife Trust

Tamil Nadu, 624103, India

Kumar Bharti, Omesh State Institute of Health and Family Welfare

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India

Malhotra, Anita

School of Natural Sciences Bangor University

Gwynedd, UK

Despite the increase in effort in resolving relationships of Asian pitvipers in the last few decades, there remain some uncertain relationships and many new species descriptions, particularly in the genus Gloydius. In particular, the position of Gloydius himalyanus remains unknown since there has been no previous phylogenetic analysis of this species. We collected DNA samples of G. himalayanus from the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh during 2017 and 2018. Three mitochondrial genes (16S, 12S and ND4), were sequenced and a concatenated Bayesian inference phylogeny was created. Along with this, one nuclear gene (PRLR) was also sequenced and a median-joining haplotype network was created to compare with the data obtained from the mitochondrial genes. The results from the mitochondrial analysis show that G. himalayanus forms the sister group of all other species of this genus and is distantly related to them. Also, that there are two distinct and highly differentiated mitochondrial lineages within G. himalayanus in Himachal Pradesh. However, the PRLR haplotype network did not provide support for the presence of distinct species, instead showing no distinct haplotypes between specimens from either lineage. Morphological data are also being collected to find any diagnostic features for the identification of the species. While currently the sample size for this is small, it does show some significant differences in two morphological traits, i.e., the shape of the internasal scales at the boundary with the prefrontal scales, and the presence or absence of a notch in the outer edge of the supraocular scales. To gain more clarity on the taxonomic status of G. himalayanus, we intend to add more nuclear loci to the analysis, as well as obtaining morphological data from additional museum specimens.

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