Molecular Phylogenetics, tRNA Evolution, and Historical Biogeography in Anguid Lizards and Related Taxonomic Families

J. Robert Macey, James A. Schulte, Allan Larson, Boris S. Tuniyev, Nikolai Orlov, Theodore J. Papenfuss

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Phylogenetic relationships among lizards of the families Anguidae, Anniellidae, Xenosauridae, and Shinisauridae are investigated using 2001 aligned bases of mitochondrial DNA sequence from the genes encoding ND1 (subunit one of NADH dehydrogenase), tRNAIle, tRNAGln, tRNAMet, ND2, tRNATrp, tRNAAla, tRNAAsn, tRNACys, tRNATyr, and COI (subunit I of cytochrome c oxidase), plus the origin for light-strand replication (OL) between the tRNAAsn and the tRNACys genes. The aligned sequences contain 1013 phylogenetically informative characters. A well-resolved phylogenetic hypothesis is obtained. Because monophyly of the family Xenosauridae (Shinisaurus and Xenosaurus) is statistically rejected, we recommend placing Shinisaurus in a separate family, the Shinisauridae. The family Anniellidae and the anguid subfamilies Gerrhonotinae and Anguinae each form monophyletic groups receiving statistical support. The Diploglossinae*, which appears monophyletic, is retained as a metataxon (denoted with an asterisk) because its monophyly is statistically neither supported nor rejected. The family Anguidae appears monophyletic in analyses of the DNA sequence data, and statistical support for its monophyly is provided by reanalysis of previously published allozymic data. Anguid lizards appear to have had a northern origin in Laurasia. Taxa currently located on Gondwanan plates arrived there by dispersal from the north in two separate events, one from the West Indies to South America and another from a Laurasian plate to Morocco. Because basal anguine lineages are located in western Eurasia and Morocco, formation of the Atlantic Ocean (late Eocene) is implicated in the separation of the Anguinae from its North American sister taxon, the Gerrhonotinae. Subsequent dispersal of anguine lizards to East Asia and North America appears to have followed the Oligocene drying of the Turgai Sea. The alternative hypothesis, that anguine lizards originated in North America and dispersed to Asia via the Bering land bridge with subsequent colonization of Europe and Morocco, requires a phylogenetic tree seven steps longer than the most parsimonious hypothesis. North African, European, and West Asian anguines were isolated from others by the rapid uplift of Tibet in the late Oligocene to Miocene. Phylogenetic analysis of evolutionary changes in the gene encoding tRNACys suggests gradual reduction of dihydrouridine (D) stems by successive deletion of bases in some lineages. This evolutionary pattern contrasts with the one observed for parallel elimination of the D-stem in mitochondrial tRNAs of eight other reptile groups, in which replication slippage produces direct repeats. An unusual, enlarged TψC (T) stem is inferred for tRNACys in most species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-272
Number of pages23
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1999


  • (historical biogeography
  • Anguidae
  • Anguimorpha
  • Anniellidae
  • Asia
  • cysteine tRNA
  • Europe
  • mitochondrial DNA
  • Morocco
  • North America
  • phylogenetics
  • Reptilia
  • Sauria
  • Shinisauridae
  • Xenosauridae


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