Conspicuous coloration of toxin-resistant predators implicates additional trophic interactions in a predator-prey arms race
Hague, Michael et al. (2023), Conspicuous coloration of toxin-resistant predators implicates additional trophic interactions in a predator-prey arms race, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.d7wm37q4n
Antagonistic coevolution between natural enemies can produce highly exaggerated traits, such as prey toxins and predator resistance. This reciprocal process of adaptation and counter-adaptation may also open doors to other evolutionary novelties not directly involved in the phenotypic interface of coevolution. We tested the hypothesis that predator-prey coevolution coincided with the evolution of conspicuous coloration on resistant predators that retain prey toxins. In western North America, common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) have evolved extreme resistance to tetrodotoxin (TTX) in the coevolutionary arms race with their deadly prey, Pacific newts (Taricha spp.). TTX-resistant snakes can retain large amounts of ingested TTX, which could serve as a deterrent against the snakes’ own predators if TTX toxicity and resistance are coupled with a conspicuous warning signal. We evaluated whether arms race escalation co-varies with bright red coloration in snake populations across the geographic mosaic of coevolution. Snake color variation departs from the neutral expectations of population genetic structure and co-varies with escalating clines of newt TTX and snake resistance at two coevolutionary hotspots. In the Pacific Northwest, bright red coloration fits an expected pattern of an aposematic warning to avian predators: TTX-resistant snakes that consume highly toxic newts also have relatively large, reddish-orange dorsal blotches. Snake coloration also seems to have evolved with the arms race in California, but overall patterns are less intuitively consistent with aposematism. These results suggest that interactions with additional trophic levels can generate novel traits as a cascading consequence of arms race coevolution across the geographic mosaic.
National Science Foundation, Award: DEB 1601296
National Science Foundation, Award: IOS 1355221
National Science Foundation, Award: DEB 1911485