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Data from: Trophic specialisation drives morphological evolution in sea snakes

Cite this dataset

Sherratt, Emma; Rasmussen, Arne R.; Sanders, Kate L. (2018). Data from: Trophic specialisation drives morphological evolution in sea snakes [Dataset]. Dryad.


Viviparous sea snakes are the most rapidly speciating reptiles known, yet the ecological factors underlying this radiation are poorly understood. Here, we reconstructed dated trees for 75% of sea snake species and quantified body shape (forebody relative to hindbody girth), maximum body length and trophic diversity to examine how dietary specialisation has influenced morphological diversification in this rapid radiation. We show that sea snake body shape and size are strongly correlated with the proportion of burrowing prey in the diet. Specialist predators of burrowing eels have convergently evolved a ‘microcephalic’ morphotype with dramatically reduced forebody relative to hindbody girth and intermediate body length. By comparison, snakes that predominantly feed on gobies are generally short-bodied and small headed, but there is no evidence of convergent evolution. The eel specialists also exhibit faster rates of size and shape evolution compared to all other sea snakes, including those that feed on burrowing gobies. Our results suggest that trophic specialisation to particular burrowing prey (eels) has invoked strong selective pressures that manifest as predictable and rapid morphological changes. Further studies are needed to examine the genetic and developmental mechanisms underlying these dramatic morphological changes and assess their role in sea snake speciation.

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