Evidence for divergent patterns of local selection driving venom variation in Mojave Rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus)
Snake venoms represent an enriched system for investigating the evolutionary processes that lead to complex and dynamic trophic adaptations. It has long been hypothesized that natural selection may drive geographic variation in venom composition, yet previous studies have lacked the population genetic context to examine these patterns. We leverage range-wide sampling of Mojave Rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus) and use a combination of venom, morphological, phylogenetic, population genetic, and environmental data to characterize the striking dichotomy of neurotoxic (Type A) and hemorrhagic (Type B) venoms throughout the range of this species. We find that three of the four previously identified major lineages within C. scutulatus possess a combination of Type A, Type B, and a ‘mixed’ Type A + B venom phenotypes, and that fixation of the two main venom phenotypes occurs on a more fine geographic scale than previously appreciated. We also find that Type A + B individuals occur in regions of inferred introgression, and that this mixed phenotype is comparatively rare. Our results support strong directional local selection leading to fixation of alternative venom phenotypes on a fine geographic scale, and are inconsistent with balancing selection to maintain both phenotypes within a single population. Our comparisons to biotic and abiotic factors further indicate that venom phenotype correlates with fang morphology and climatic variables. We hypothesize that links to fang morphology may be indicative of co-evolution of venom and other trophic adaptations, and that climatic variables may be linked to prey distributions and/or physiology, which in turn impose selection pressures on snake venoms.
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