Despite their medical interest, the phylogeny of the snake family Viperidae remains inadequately understood. Previous studies have generally focused either on the pitvipers (Crotalinae) or on the Old World vipers (Viperinae), but there has been no comprehensive molecular study of the Viperidae as a whole, leaving the affinities of key taxa unresolved. Here, we infer the phylogenetic relationships among the extant genera of the Viperidae from the sequences of four mitochondrial genes (cytochrome b, NADH subunit 4, 16S and 12S rRNA). The results confirm Azemiops as the sister group of the Crotalinae, whereas Causus is nested within the Viperinae, and thus not a basal viperid or viperine. Relationships among the major clades of Viperinae remain poorly resolved despite increased sequence information compared to previous studies. Bayesian molecular dating in conjunction with dispersal-vicariance analysis suggests an early Tertiary origin in Asia for the crown group Viperidae, and rejects suggestions of a relatively recent, early to mid-Tertiary origin of the Caenophidia.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.