Phylogenomic analyses of more than 4000 nuclear loci resolve the origin of snakes among lizard families

Jeffrey W. Streicher, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes) are the most diverse group of terrestrial vertebrates, with more than 10 000 species. Despite considerable effort to resolve relationships among major squamates clades, some branches have remained difficult. Among the most vexing has been the placement of snakes among lizard families, with most studies yielding only weak support for the position of snakes. Furthermore, the placement of iguanian lizards has remained controversial. Here we used targeted sequence capture to obtain data from 4178 nuclear loci from ultraconserved elements from 32 squamate taxa (and five outgroups) including representatives of all major squamate groups. Using both concatenated and species-tree methods, we recover strong support for a sister relationship between iguanian and anguimorph lizards, with snakes strongly supported as the sister group of these two clades. These analyses strongly resolve the difficult placement of snakes within squamates and show overwhelming support for the contentious position of iguanians. More generally, we provide a strongly supported hypothesis of higher-level relationships in the most species-rich tetrapod clade using coalescent-based species-tree methods and approximately 100 times more loci than previous estimates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20170393
JournalBiology letters
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • Lizards
  • Phylogenomics
  • Snakes
  • Species-tree

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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