Phylogeny of Philippine slender skinks (Scincidae: Brachymeles) reveals underestimated species diversity, complex biogeographical relationships, and cryptic patterns of lineage diversification

Siler, C. D., A. C. Diesmos, A. C. Alcala & R. M. Brown. 2011
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

The spectacular, virtually endemic radiation of Philippine semi-fossorial skinks of the genus Brachymeles represent one of the few radiations of scincid lizards to possess both fully limbed and limbless species. And yet, nothing is known of the phylogenetic relationships of this exceptional group. Morphologically similar body plans have made it difficult to assess species-level diversity, and the genus has long been recognized as one of the more modest radiations of southeast Asian lizards. However, recent large-scale survey efforts have resulted in the discovery of numerous new species, and taxonomic studies indicate that the diversity within the genus Brachymeles is grossly underestimated. In this study we provide the first robust estimate of phylogenetic relationships within the genus Brachymeles using a multi-locus dataset and nearly complete taxonomic sampling. We provide statistical tests of monophyly for all polytypic species and two widespread limb-reduced species and our results indicate wholesale deviations from past summaries and taxonomic evaluations of the genus. With few exceptions, we are able to reject the monophyly of all polytypic and widespread species, thereby validating the need for large-scale taxonomic revisions. Our results reveal that the limbless, monotypic, genus Davewakeum is nested within Brachymeles. Mapping of body form on our preferred phylogenetic tree suggests that limb-reduction and digit loss has occurred on multiple occasions in the history of the genus. A Bayesian reconstruction of ancestral areas indicates strong statistical support for a minimum of five major dispersal events that have given rise to a major component of the observed species diversity on separate Pleistocene aggregate island platforms of the archipelago.