The sea snake subfamily Laticaudinae consists of a single genus with eight named species, based on morphological characters. We used microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data to clarify the adaptive radiation of these oviparous sea snakes in the South Pacific, with special reference to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. A mitochondrial DNA data set (ND4 gene 793 bp) was obtained from 345 individuals of the five species of Laticauda sp. sea snakes endemic to the region. Maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches yielded the same optimal tree topology, identifying two major clades (yellow-banded and blue-banded sea snakes). Although all laticaudine sea snakes rely on small islands as oviposition sites, the two lineages differ in their use of marine vs. terrestrial habitats. A highly aquatic species (Laticauda laticaudata) shows a strong pattern of genetic isolation by distance, implying that the patchy distribution of terrestrial habitats has had little impact on gene flow. The more terrestrial clade (Laticauda colubrina, Laticauda frontalis, Laticauda guineai, Laticauda saintgironsi) shows stronger geographic differentiation in allelic frequencies, associated with island groups rather than with geographic distance. Microsatellites and mtDNA suggest that L. frontalis (restricted to Vanuatu) represents a recent founder-induced speciation event, from allopatric migrants of the New Caledonian taxon L. saintgironsi. A major divergence in speciation patterns between the two major clades of laticaudine snakes thus correlates with (and perhaps, is driven by) differences in the importance of terrestrial habitats in the species' ecology.
- gene flow
- habitat effects