A molecular phylogeny of ichthyophiid caecilians (Amphibia: Gymnophiona: Ichthyophiidae): out of India or out of South East Asia?

David J. Gower, Alex Kupfer, Oommen V. Oommen, Werner Himstedt, Ronald A. Nussbaum, Simon P. Loader, Bronwen Presswell, Hendrik Müller, Sharath B. Krishna, Renaud Boistel, Mark Wilkinson


Recent molecular phylogenetic studies indicate that the rafting Indian plate harboured several isolated vertebrate lineages between ca. 130 and 56 Myr ago that dispersed and diversified ‘out of Indi’ following accretion with Eurasia. A single family of the amphibian order Gymnophiona, the Ichthyophiidae, presently occurs on the Indian plate and across much of South East Asia. Ichthyophiid phylogeny is investigated in order to test competing out of India and out of South East Asia hypotheses for their distribution. Partial sequences of mitochondrial 12S and 16S rRNA and cytochrome b genes for 20 ichthyophiids and proximate outgroups were assembled. Parsimony, maximum–likelihood and distance analyses all recover optimum trees in which uraeotyphlids plus Ichthyophis cf. malabarensis are the sister taxa to all other Ichthyophis, among which the South East Asian taxa are monophyletic. Tree topology and branch lengths indicate that the Indian lineages are more basal and older, and thus are more consistent with the hypothesis that ichthyophiids dispersed from the Indian subcontinent into South East Asia. The estimated relationships also support monophyly of Sri Lankan Ichthyophis, and non–monophyly of striped and unstriped Ichthyophis species groups. Mitochondrial DNA sequences provide evidence that should assist current problematic areas of caecilian taxonomy.