Nevin Manimala Statistics

Ecological correlates of cranial evolution in the megaradiation of dipsadine snakes

BMC Ecol Evol. 2023 Sep 8;23(1):48. doi: 10.1186/s12862-023-02157-3.


BACKGROUND: Dipsadine snakes represent one of the most spectacular vertebrate radiations that have occurred in any continental setting, with over 800 species in South and Central America. Their species richness is paralleled by stunning ecological diversity, ranging from arboreal snail-eating and aquatic eel-eating specialists to terrestrial generalists. Despite the ecological importance of this clade, little is known about the extent to which ecological specialization shapes broader patterns of phenotypic diversity within the group. Here, we test how habitat use and diet have influenced morphological diversification in skull shape across 160 dipsadine species using micro-CT and 3-D geometric morphometrics, and we use a phylogenetic comparative approach to test the contributions of habitat use and diet composition to variation in skull shape among species.

RESULTS: We demonstrate that while both habitat use and diet are significant predictors of shape in many regions of the skull, habitat use significantly predicts shape in a greater number of skull regions when compared to diet. We also find that across ecological groupings, fossorial and aquatic behaviors result in the strongest deviations in morphospace for several skull regions. We use simulations to address the robustness of our results and describe statistical anomalies that can arise from the application of phylogenetic generalized least squares to complex shape data.

CONCLUSIONS: Both habitat and dietary ecology are significantly correlated with skull shape in dipsadines; the strongest relationships involved skull shape in snakes with aquatic and fossorial lifestyles. This association between skull morphology and multiple ecological axes is consistent with a classic model of adaptive radiation and suggests that ecological factors were an important component in driving morphological diversification in the dipsadine megaradiation.

PMID:37679675 | DOI:10.1186/s12862-023-02157-3

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