Zoological Studies

Vol. 61, 2022

(update: 2022.7.20)

Biogeographic Inferences on the Evolutionary History of the King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah, Cantor 1836) Species Complex

Fèlix Amat1,* and Daniel Escoriza2,§

1Àrea d'Herpetologia, Museu de Granollers-Ciències Naturals, C/ Palaudàries, 102 08402 Granollers, Catalonia, Spain. *Correspondence: E-mail: felixamat09@gmail.com (Amat)
2GRECO, Institut de Ecologia Aquàtica, Facultat de Ciències, Campus Montillivi s/n, 17071, Girona, Spain. E-mail: daniel_escoriza@hotmail.com (Escoriza)

§FA and DE contributed equally to this work.
Received 23 October 2021 / Accepted 13 April 2022
Communicated by Jina-Nan Liu

King cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is a snake widely distributed through southeastern tropical Asia, but in two separate subpopulations: one located in the Western Ghats (western Indian Peninsula) and the other much more extensive, ranging between the southern slopes of the Himalayas, Assam, Indochina to southeastern China. Similarly, it also appears in numerous tropical archipelagos such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Andaman Islands, but surprisingly it is absent from other large islands like Sri Lanka and Taiwan. In this study, we evaluated how climate could be shaping the distribution of this snake and estimated the future distribution of the species utilizing ecological niche modelling. To evaluate the effect of paleoclimatic conditions on the genetic structure of this species we performed Bayesian phylogenetic analysis under a molecular clock using mitochondrial DNA. Our analyses indicated that the current distribution of O. hannah is strongly influenced by the availability of humid climate conditions. King cobras have a long evolutionary history reflected in the appearance of four main mitochondrial lineages before the Pliocene (the Western Ghats, southeastern mainland Asia, Luzon, and Indonesia), congruently with paleoclimatic models that indicated the availability of suitable conditions for this species in these refugia during the glacial cycles. Climate history could explain the absence of O. hannah in Sri Lanka and Taiwan due to the absence of suitable climatic corridors when these islands were connected to the mainland (20,000 years ago). Future projections (2050‒2070) did not suggest significant range shifts in the region, even considering the worst global warming scenarios.

Key words: Paleobiogeography, Ophiophagus hannah, Niche modelling, Climate change, Evolutionary history.

Citation:Amat F, Escoriza D. 2022. Biogeographic inferences on the evolutionary history of the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah, Cantor 1836) species complex. Zool Stud 61:28. doi:10.6620/ZS.2022.61-28.

Supplementary materials: Table S1 | Table S2