Phylogenetically diverse diets favor more complex venoms in North American pitvipers
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The role of natural selection in the evolution of trait complexity can be characterized by testing hypothesized links between complex forms and their functions across species. Predatory venoms are composed of multiple proteins that collectively function to incapacitate prey. Venom complexity fluctuates over evolutionary timescales, with apparent increases and decreases in complexity, and yet the causes of this variation are unclear. We tested alternative hypotheses linking venom complexity and ecological sources of selection from diet in the largest clade of front-fanged venomous snakes in North America: the rattlesnakes, copperheads, cantils, and cottonmouths. We generated independent transcriptomic and proteomic measures of venom complexity and collated several natural history studies to quantify dietary variation. We then constructed genome-scale phylogenies for these snakes for comparative analyses. Strikingly, prey phylogenetic diversity was more strongly correlated to venom complexity than was overall prey species diversity, specifically implicating prey species’ divergence, rather than the number of lineages alone, in the evolution of complexity. Prey phylogenetic diversity further predicted transcriptomic complexity of three of the four largest gene families in viper venom, showing that complexity evolution is a concerted response among many independent gene families. We suggest that the phylogenetic diversity of prey measures functionally relevant divergence in the targets of venom, a claim supported by sequence diversity in the coagulation cascade targets of venom. Our results support the general concept that the diversity of species in an ecological community is more important than their overall number in determining evolutionary patterns in predator trait complexity.
Holding ML., Strickland JL., Rautsaw RM., Hofmann EP., Mason AJ., Hogan MP., et al. Phylogenetically diverse diets favor more complex venoms in North American pitvipers. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A.. 2021 Apr;118(17):e2015579118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2015579118.
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National Science Foundation (NSF) ; Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) ; Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Amazonas (FAPEAM) ; Clemson University ; Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) ; Prairie Biotic Research (PBR) ; Sigma Xi Grants in Aid of Research (GIAR) ; SnakeDays ; Southwestern Association of Naturalists ; National Institutes of Health (NIH) ; Theodore Roosevelt Memorial
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