Research Master Thesis
Plettenberg Laing, A., 2018. A multilocus phylogeny of the cobra clade elapids (MSc Thesis, Bangor University).
The extant medically and socially important cobras have been the subject to several comparative taxonomic studies since the 1940s, but still lack an inclusive and thorough phylogenetic tree. With recent major advancements in phylogenetic analysis, it is now common to use multiple independent loci for studying the phylogenetic relationships within groups. For the first time, 27 from the 29 identified Naja species, alongside 5 putative new or elevated species had 4426 base pairs across 1701 sequences of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data analysed. The results continue to support the monophyletic core cobra clade encompassing the genera Walterinnesia, Aspidelaps, Hemachatus, Pseudohaje and Naja (1.0 Bayesian posterior probability (BPP)), in addition to the grouping of four monophyletic subgenera within Naja. The group of African spitting cobras, Afronaja, is positioned as the sister group to the rest of the genus. Moderate support (0.8 BPP) is found for the grouping of the Asian cobras, Naja, with the African non-spitting cobras, Ureaus. The closest relative to the genus Naja is Pseudohaje goldii, a genus and species never before included in phylogenetic analysis, followed by the sister taxa Hemachatus haemachatus. The king cobra continues to be positioned outside the core cobra group, sister to Hemibungarus calligaster. The results support the hypothesis of three independent origins of spitting, once in the monotypic Hemachatus haemachatus, once within the subgenus Afronaja, and the final origin within the Asian cobras, subgenus Naja. The relationships found were broadly consistent with previous studies, with the additional inclusion of more species creating the most comprehensive cobra phylogeny to date. Further molecular analysis, specifically species delimitation, must be undertaken to ascertain the position of the 5 putative new species included in this study.
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