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Open AccessArticle

Coevolution of Snake Venom Toxic Activities and Diet: Evidence that Ecological Generalism Favours Toxicological Diversity

Department of Biosciences, College of Science, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
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Toxins 2019, 11(12), 711; https://doi.org/10.3390/toxins11120711
Received: 4 September 2019 / Revised: 10 October 2019 / Accepted: 4 December 2019 / Published: 6 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Evolutionary Ecology of Venom)
Snake venom evolution is typically considered to be predominantly driven by diet-related selection pressures. Most evidence for this is based on lethality to prey and non-prey species and on the identification of prey specific toxins. Since the broad toxicological activities (e.g., neurotoxicity, coagulotoxicity, etc.) sit at the interface between molecular toxinology and lethality, these classes of activity may act as a key mediator in coevolutionary interactions between snakes and their prey. Indeed, some recent work has suggested that variation in these functional activities may be related to diet as well, but previous studies have been limited in geographic and/or taxonomic scope. In this paper, we take a phylogenetic comparative approach to investigate relationships between diet and toxicological activity classes on a global scale across caenophidian snakes, using the clinically oriented database at toxinology.com. We generally find little support for specific prey types selecting for particular toxicological effects except that reptile-feeders are more likely to be neurotoxic. We find some support for endothermic prey (with higher metabolic rates) influencing toxic activities, but differently from previous suggestions in the literature. More broadly, we find strong support for a general effect of increased diversity of prey on the diversity of toxicological effects of snake venom. Hence, we provide evidence that selection pressures on the toxicological activities of snake venom has largely been driven by prey diversity rather than specific types of prey. These results complement and extend previous work to suggest that specific matching of venom characteristics to prey may occur at the molecular level and translate into venom lethality, but the functional link between those two is not constrained to a particular toxicological route. View Full-Text
Keywords: evolution; ecology; prey diversity; predator-prey coevolution; neurotoxicity; coagulotoxicity; cytotoxicity; nephrotoxicity evolution; ecology; prey diversity; predator-prey coevolution; neurotoxicity; coagulotoxicity; cytotoxicity; nephrotoxicity
MDPI and ACS Style

Davies, E.-L.; Arbuckle, K. Coevolution of Snake Venom Toxic Activities and Diet: Evidence that Ecological Generalism Favours Toxicological Diversity. Toxins 2019, 11, 711.

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