Trophic divergence despite morphological convergence in a continental radiation of snakes

Michael C. Grundler, Daniel L. Rabosky

Abstract

Ecological and phenotypic convergence is a potential outcome of adaptive radiation in response to ecological opportunity. However, a number of factors may limit convergence during evolutionary radiations, including interregional differences in biogeographic history and clade-specific constraints on form and function. Here, we demonstrate that a single clade of terrestrial snakes from Australia—the oxyuranine elapids—exhibits widespread morphological convergence with a phylogenetically diverse and distantly related assemblage of snakes from North America. Australian elapids have evolved nearly the full spectrum of phenotypic modalities that occurs among North American snakes. Much of the convergence appears to involve the recurrent evolution of stereotyped morphologies associated with foraging mode, locomotion and habitat use. By contrast, analysis of snake diets indicates striking divergence in feeding ecology between these faunas, partially reflecting regional differences in ecological allometry between Australia and North America. Widespread phenotypic convergence with the North American snake fauna coupled with divergence in feeding ecology are clear examples of how independent continental radiations may converge along some ecological axes yet differ profoundly along others.

  • Received February 18, 2014.
  • Accepted May 14, 2014.
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