Combining mitochondrial DNA sequences and morphological data to infer species boundaries: phylogeography of lanceheaded pitvipers in the Brazilian Atlantic forest, and the status of Bothrops pradoi (Squamata: Serpentes: Viperidae)

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Phylogeographic studies using mitochondrial DNA sequence information are frequently used as the principal source of evidence to infer species boundaries. However, a critical analysis of further evidence is essential to test whether different haplotype clades identify different species. We demonstrate a hypothesis-testing approach, using a combination of phylogeographic methods, multivariate morphometrics and matrix association tests, to investigate species boundaries in eastern Brazilian pitvipers conventionally assigned to the species Bothrops leucurus and B. pradoi. Two basal haplotype clades with partly overlapping geographical distributions are identified, which could either represent two partly sympatric species, or multiple haplotypes within one organismal lineage. We use partial Mantel matrix association tests to verify whether generalized morphology, or any of four supposedly diagnostic characters for the two species, show any association with mtDNA variation. Negative results lead to the conclusion that the haplotype clades do not denote independently evolving organismal lineages, and do not constitute separate species under any criterion.

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