Evaluating taxonomic inflation: towards evidence-based species delimitation in Eurasian vipers (Serpentes: Viperinae)
journal contributionposted on 10.04.2020 by Inês Freitas, Sylvain Ursenbacher, Konrad Mebert, Oleksandr Zinenko, Silke Schweiger, Wolfgang Wüster, José C. Brito, Jelka Crnobrnja-Isailović, Bálint Halpern, Soumia Fahd, Xavier Santos, Juan M. Pleguezuelos, Ulrich Joger, Nikolay Orlov, Edvárd Mizsei, Olivier Lourdais, Marco A. L. Zuffi, Alexandru Strugariu, Ștefan Remus Zamfirescu, Íñigo Martínez-Solano, Guillermo Velo-Antón, Antigoni Kaliontzopoulou, Fernando Martínez-Freiría
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The designation of taxonomic units has important implications for the understanding and conservation of biodiversity. Eurasian vipers are a monophyletic group of viperid snakes (Serpentes, Viperinae), currently comprising four genera (Daboia, Macrovipera, Montivipera and Vipera) and up to 40 species. Taxonomic units have been described using a wide variety of methods and criteria, and consequently, considerable controversy still surrounds the validity of some currently listed species. In order to promote a consensus- and evidence-based taxonomy of Eurasian vipers, we analysed published mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences for this group to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships among currently recognized viper species. We also compiled information on external morphology to assess their morphological distinctiveness. Phylogenetic inference based on mtDNA sequences shows contrasting levels of divergence across genera and species and identifies several instances of non-monophyly in described species. Nuclear DNA sequences show extremely low levels of genetic variation, with a widespread pattern of allele sharing among distant species, and even among genera. Revision of morphological data shows that most species designations rely on scalation traits that overlap extensively among species of the same genus. Based on our combined assessment, we recognize 15 taxa as valid species, three taxa which likely represent species complexes, 17 taxa of doubtful validity as species, and five taxa for which species status is maintained but further research is highly recommended to assess taxonomic arrangements. We stress the need to implement integrative taxonomic approaches for the recognition of evidence-based taxonomic units in Eurasian vipers.