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The Diversity of Venom: The Importance of Behavior and Venom System Morphology in Understanding Its Ecology and Evolution

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Centre for Advanced Imaging, the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
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School of Biomedical Sciences, the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia
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Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
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Centre for Biodiversity Dynamics, Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, 7491 Trondheim, Norway
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Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1066 Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Toxins 2019, 11(11), 666; https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins11110666
Received: 5 October 2019 / Revised: 6 November 2019 / Accepted: 12 November 2019 / Published: 14 November 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolutionary Ecology of Venom)
Venoms are one of the most convergent of animal traits known, and encompass a much greater taxonomic and functional diversity than is commonly appreciated. This knowledge gap limits the potential of venom as a model trait in evolutionary biology. Here, we summarize the taxonomic and functional diversity of animal venoms and relate this to what is known about venom system morphology, venom modulation, and venom pharmacology, with the aim of drawing attention to the importance of these largely neglected aspects of venom research. We find that animals have evolved venoms at least 101 independent times and that venoms play at least 11 distinct ecological roles in addition to predation, defense, and feeding. Comparisons of different venom systems suggest that morphology strongly influences how venoms achieve these functions, and hence is an important consideration for understanding the molecular evolution of venoms and their toxins. Our findings also highlight the need for more holistic studies of venom systems and the toxins they contain. Greater knowledge of behavior, morphology, and ecologically relevant toxin pharmacology will improve our understanding of the evolution of venoms and their toxins, and likely facilitate exploration of their potential as sources of molecular tools and therapeutic and agrochemical lead compounds. View Full-Text
Keywords: Venom diversity; venom metering; venom optimization; venom gland; predation; defense; toxin function Venom diversity; venom metering; venom optimization; venom gland; predation; defense; toxin function
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MDPI and ACS Style

Schendel, V.; Rash, L.D.; Jenner, R.A.; Undheim, E.A.B. The Diversity of Venom: The Importance of Behavior and Venom System Morphology in Understanding Its Ecology and Evolution. Toxins 2019, 11, 666.

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