Overcoming the phantoms of the past: influence of predatory stimuli on the antipredator behavior of island pitvipers

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The reduction of predation is a potentially important factor for the evolution of the traits of an island animal species. By relaxed selection, insular animals tend to lose their antipredator behaviors. A monophyletic group of pitvipers (genus Bothrops) in southeastern Brazil, which have high genetic affinity and dwell on the mainland and adjacent islands, provide an appropriate setting to study the evolution of antipredator behavior and how different predatory stimuli can influence this behavior. The mainland Bothrops jararaca has several terrestrial and aerial predators, whereas B. insularis and B. alcatraz, restricted to two small islands, Queimada Grande and Alcatrazes, respectively, have a smaller range of aerial predators. Terrestrial predators are absent on Queimada Grande, but one potential snake predator occurs on Alcatrazes. We observed that the defensive repertoire of island snakes has not been lost, but they display different frequencies of some antipredator behaviors. The type of predatory stimuli (terrestrial and aerial) influenced the defensive response. Bothrops insularis most often used the escape strategies, especially against terrestrial predatory stimuli. Bothrops alcatraz displayed the highest rate of strike for both terrestrial and aerial stimuli. Our results indicate that even though relaxed selection may occur in island environments as compared to mainland environments, these pitvipers still retain their antipredator behaviors but with different response degrees to the two predator types.
Alves-Nunes JM, Fellone AT, Sazima I, Marques OAV. Overcoming the phantoms of the past: influence of predatory stimuli on the antipredator behavior of island pitvipers. Plos One. 2023 Oct; 18(10):e0288826. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0288826.
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