Pizzigalli C, Banfi F, Ficetola GF, Falaschi M, Mangiacotti M, Sacchi R, Zuffi MAL, Scali S




Multiple hypotheses have been proposed to explain the variation of dorsal patterns observed in snakes, but no studies yet have tested them over broad taxonomic and geographical scales. The Viperidae offer a powerful model group to test eco-evolutionary processes that lead to disruptive and cryptic ornaments. We developed a database reporting dorsal ornamentation, ecological habitus, habitat features and climatic parameters for 257 out of 341 recognized species. Three patterns of dorsal ornamentation were considered: “zig-zag”, “blotchy” and “uniform” patterns. Phylogenetic comparative analyses were based on 11 mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Forty-eight species presented a zig-zag pattern type, 224 a blotchy pattern type and 32 a uniform pattern type. All the patterns showed a strong phylogenetic signal. Character phylogenetic reconstruction analyses suggested an ancestral state for blotchy ornamentation, with multiple independent evolutions of the other patterns. The blotchy pattern was more frequent in terrestrial species living in warm climates and sandy habitats, supporting the hypothesis of a disruptive function. The zig-zag pattern evolved independently in several isolated taxa, particularly in species living in cold climates and in dense vegetation or water-related habitats, supporting the hypothesis of disruptive and aposematic functions. Uniform coloration was particularly frequent in arboreal species, supporting the hypothesis of a cryptic function.


Journal: Biological Journal of the Linnean Society

DOI: 10.1093/biolinnean/blaa037