Shedding subspecies: The influence of genetics on reptile subspecies taxonomy

Shannon M. Torstrom, Kevin L. Pangle, Bradley J. Swanson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


The subspecies concept influences multiple aspects of biology and management. The 'molecular revolution' altered traditional methods (morphological traits) of subspecies classification by applying genetic analyses resulting in alternative or contradictory classifications. We evaluated recent reptile literature for bias in the recommendations regarding subspecies status when genetic data were included. Reviewing characteristics of the study, genetic variables, genetic distance values and noting the species concepts, we found that subspecies were more likely elevated to species when using genetic analysis. However, there was no predictive relationship between variables used and taxonomic recommendation. There was a significant difference between the median genetic distance values when researchers elevated or collapsed a subspecies. Our review found nine different concepts of species used when recommending taxonomic change, and studies incorporating multiple species concepts were more likely to recommend a taxonomic change. Since using genetic techniques significantly alter reptile taxonomy there is a need to establish a standard method to determine the species-subspecies boundary in order to effectively use the subspecies classification for research and conservation purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-143
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Genetic distance
  • Genetic techniques
  • Integrative taxonomic species concept
  • Subspecies concepts


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