This is in reference to Dubois et al. 2021 (paper attached to this thread). Our original Bungarus paper (Sunagar et al. 2021) is also appended to this post.
First and foremost, it was extremely disappointing and discouraging to read the response by Dubois et al., who decided not to mention any of the interesting and insightful outcomes of this study - there were many, and the erection of this new species was a very minor part of it. Instead, they only focused on how this manuscript does not follow the sacred ‘code’. With that aside, we have responded to the major aspects highlighted in their commentary. We agree with some of the things they mention, and respectfully disagree with others.
A Zoobank submission was indeed made (LSID: CE9FC94B-999E-42A7-9546-22F1836FCA5F). Unfortunately, however, this was not included in the manuscript. We were unaware of these recent (since 2012) stipulations that are applicable to online-only journals. This is, indeed, a technical flaw according to the ‘code’ and we accept our mistake.
Indian snakes are protected under strict Wildlife Protection Acts, which makes it particularly difficult to work with the ‘big four’ Indian snakes and their close relatives. Let alone euthanisation of these snakes for specimen deposition, obtaining permissions to collect venom and DNA samples takes years. Permissions may come by relatively ‘easy’ in some states, but it is next to impossible in most others. This is, perhaps, why there has been extremely limited work on venomous snakes in India. We not only attempted to acquire permissions to collect samples for specimen deposition but also from the type locality. However, despite trying for years, we were unsuccessful. We have recently received the requisite permissions to collect and deposit a type specimen with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Morphology versus species divergence
We completely disagree with this comment. Speciation does not necessarily need to be accompanied by morphological divergence. Species that have diverged in recent evolutionary history may not show commensurate changes in their morphology. Future comparative investigations into the population genetics and genomes will possibly reveal the extent of diversification between these snakes.
While we agree that not mentioning the ZooBank accession number in the manuscript published in this online-only journal, a stipulation that was instituted in 2012, is a technical flaws of this study, and one that we hope to address in the near future, our primary motivation was to demonstrate the presence of phylogenetic crypsis in the B. caeruleus complex and its severe negative impact on snakebite therapy in India. The large phylogenetic divergence, along with the differences documented in venom composition, activity and potency, pose a significant medical challenge, as emphatically highlighted in this study. Understanding the phylogenetic crypsis in this genera is crucial for the effective treatment of snakebites in India, where over 200,000 people are annually affected by snakebite. In retrospect, we realize that, given the lack of a decent sample size, we could have merely highlighted the phylogenetic crypsis in the northern and southern Indian populations of snakes considered to be 'Bungarus caeruleus', without erecting a novel species. This would have still immediately and meaningfully guided the lifesaving antivenom production strategy.