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Museum DNA reveals a new, potentially extinct species of rinkhals (Serpentes: Elapidae: Hemachatus) from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.

Major, T., Renk, P., Reissig, J., Paijmans, J. L. A., Morris, E., Hofreiter, M., Barlow, A., Broadley, D. G. and Wüster, W., 2023. Museum DNA reveals a new, potentially extinct species of rinkhals (Serpentes: Elapidae: Hemachatus) from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. PLoS One, 18 (9), e0291432.

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Major et al 2023_Museum genomics reveals a new species of Hemachatus.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0291432


Genetic information plays a pivotal role in species recognition and delimitation, but rare or extinct animals can be difficult to obtain genetic samples from. While natural history wet collections have proven invaluable in the description of novel species, the use of these historical samples in genetic studies has been greatly impeded by DNA degradation, especially because of formalin-fixation prior to preservation. Here, we use recently developed museum genomics approaches to determine the status of an isolated population of the elapid snake genus Hemachatus from Zimbabwe. We used multiple digestion phases followed by single strand sequencing library construction and hybridisation capture to obtain 12S and 16S rDNA sequences from a poorly preserved tissue sample of this population. Phylogenetic and morphological analyses in an integrated taxonomic framework demonstrate that the Zimbabwean rinkhals population represents an old and highly distinct lineage, which we describe as a new species, Hemachatus nyangensis sp. nov. Our phylogenetic dating analysis is compatible with venom spitting having evolved in response to the threat posed by early hominins, although more data are required for a robust test of this hypothesis. This description demonstrates the power of museum genomics in revealing rare or even extinct species: Hemachatus from Zimbabwe are only known from a small area of the Eastern Highlands known for high endemism. No living specimens have been seen since the 1980s, most likely due to dramatic land-use changes in the Eastern Highlands, suggesting that the species could be extinct. In view of its recognition as a highly distinct lineage, urgent action is required to determine whether any populations survive, and to safeguard remaining habitat.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Animals; Elapidae; Hemachatus; Zimbabwe; Museums; Phylogeny; DNA, Ribosomal
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:39838
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:15 May 2024 11:23
Last Modified:15 May 2024 11:23


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