Evidence for a Müllerian mimetic radiation in Asian pitvipers

  • Sanders K
  • Malhotra A
  • Thorpe R
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Müllerian mimicry, in which toxic species gain mutual protection from shared warning signals, is poorly understood in vertebrates, reflecting a paucity of examples. Indirect evidence for mimicry is found if monophyletic species or clades show parallel geographic variation in warning patterns. Here, we evaluate a hypothesis of Müllerian mimicry for the pitvipers in Southeast Asia using a phylogeny derived from DNA sequences from four combined mitochondrial regions. Mantel matrix correlation tests show that conspicuous red colour pattern elements are significantly associated with sympatric and parapatric populations in four genera. To our knowledge, this represents the first evidence of a Müllerian mimetic radiation in vipers. The putative mimetic patterns are rarely found in females. This appears paradoxical in light of the Müllerian prediction of monomorphism, but may be explained by divergent selection pressures on the sexes, which have different behaviours. We suggest that biased predation on active males causes selection for protective warning coloration, whereas crypsis is favoured in relatively sedentary females.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Green pitviper
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Mitochondrial DNA phylogeny
  • Müllerian mimicry
  • Sex-limited
  • Trimeresurus

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  • K. L. Sanders

  • A. Malhotra

  • R. S. Thorpe

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