A molecular phylogeny for the South African limbless lizard taxa of the subfamily Acontinae (Sauria: Scincidae) with special emphasis on relationships within Acontias
In the present study, relationships among three genera Acontias, Acontophiops, and Typhlosaurus, that comprise the South African limbless lizard subfamily Acontinae, were assessed with partial sequences of the 16S rRNA mitochondrial DNA gene. In addition, relationships within Acontias were further investigated using sequence data from the cytochrome oxidase I gene (COI). Maximum likelihood and maximum parsimony analyses of the 16S rRNA mtDNA data revealed that within this subfamily, Typhlosaurus is basal while Acontophiops and Acontias are sister taxa. Based on the 16S rRNA mtDNA data, the relationships within Acontias placed A. meleagris orientalis as the sister taxon of A. percivali tasmani, with A. m. orientalis lineacauda morph and A. m. meleagrus being the sister taxa to this group. The small-bodied skinks A. lineatus lineatus and A. l. tristis formed a monophyletic group, with the medium-bodied species A. gracilicauda gracilicauda being their sister taxon. Analyses of the COI gene for Acontias place A. m. orientalis as the sister taxon of A. p. tasmani with both A. meleagris meleagris and A. m. orientalis lineacauda being distinct. In contrast to the 16S rRNA mtDNA data, the COI data placed A. g. gracilicauda as the sister taxon to these medium-bodied species; while the subspecies status of the small-bodied taxa A. l. lineatus and A. l. tristis is reaffirmed. Combined analysis of both gene fragments for Acontias taxa recovered the same clades as found using only COI data. Systematic affinities in Acontias are discussed. These results indicate that Acontias is more species rich than previously thought. © 2002 Elsevier Science (USA). All rights reserved.