Predation and the maintenance of color polymorphism in a habitat specialist squamate

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Multiple studies have addressed the mechanisms maintaining polymorphism within a population. However, several examples exist where species inhabiting diverse habitats exhibit local population-specific polymorphism. Numerous explanations have been proposed for the maintenance of geographic variation in color patterns. For example, spatial variation in patterns of selection or limited gene flow can cause entire populations to become fixed for a single morph, resulting in separate populations of the same species exhibiting separate and distinct color morphs. The mottled rock rattlesnake (Crotalus lepidus lepidus) is a montane species that exhibits among-population color polymorphism that correlates with substrate color. Habitat substrate in the eastern part of its range is composed primarily of light colored limestone and snakes have light dorsal coloration, whereas in the western region the substrate is primarily dark and snakes exhibit dark dorsal coloration. We hypothesized that predation on high contrast color and blotched patterns maintain these distinct color morphs. To test this we performed a predation experiment in the wild by deploying model snakes at 12 sites evenly distributed within each of the two regions where the different morphs are found. We employed a 2×2 factorial design that included two color and two blotched treatments. Our results showed that models contrasting with substrate coloration suffered significantly more avian attacks relative to models mimicking substrates. Predation attempts on blotched models were similar in each substrate type. These results support the hypothesis that color pattern is maintained by selective predation. © 2012 Farallo, Forstner.




Farallo, V. R., & Forstner, M. R. J. (2012). Predation and the maintenance of color polymorphism in a habitat specialist squamate. PLoS ONE, 7(1).

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