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Phylogenomics, biogeography and taxonomic revision of New Guinean pythons (Pythonidae, Leiopython) harvested for international trade

posted on 2022-06-10, 02:40 authored by Damien Esquerre, Daniel J. D. Natusch, Jessica A. Lyons, Amir Hamidy, Alan R. Lemmon, Emily M. Lemmon, Awal Riyanto, J. Scott Keogh, Stephen Donnellan
The large and enigmatic New Guinean pythons in the genus Leiopython are harvested from the wild to supply the international trade in pets. Six species are currently recognized (albertisii, biakensis, fredparkeri, huonensis, meridionalis, montanus) but the taxonomy of this group has been controversial. We combined analysis of 421 nuclear loci and complete mitochondrial genomes with morphological data to construct a detailed phylogeny of this group, understand their biogeographic patterns and establish the systematic diversity of this genus. Our molecular genetic data support two major clades, corresponding to L. albertisii and L. meridionalis, but offer no support for the other four species. Our morphological data also only support two species. We therefore recognize L. albertisii and L. meridionalis as valid species and place L. biakensis, L. fredparkeri, L. huonensis and L. montanus into synonymy. We found that L. albertisiiand L. meridionalis are sympatric in western New Guinea; an atypical pattern compared to other Papuan species complexes in which the distributions of sister taxa are partitioned to the north and south of the island’s central mountain range. For the purpose of conservation management, overestimation of species diversity within Leiopython has resulted in the unnecessary allocation of resources that could have been expended elsewhere. We strongly caution against revising the taxonomy of geographically widespread species groups when little or no molecular genetic data and only small morphological samples are available.


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