Meeting Abstract

67.4  Friday, Jan. 6  Ecomorphology and Convergence in Arboreal Snakes FIGUEROA, Alex*; LAILVAUX, Simon; University of New Orleans

Snakes are characterized by a constrained and specialized body plan, capable of slight modifications and adaptations relative to other vertebrates because they lack external appendages. Nonetheless, morphological differences have evolved among snakes of dissimilar habits. If morphological constraints restrict species to a limited set of adaptations, then selection may lead to species and communities comprising distantly related lineages similar in ecomorphology. Arboreality in snakes is represented by a suite of ecomorphological and physiological adaptations shaped by selection to overcome the environmental and ecological challenges presented by the arboreal lifestyle. Although convergence is likely to be prominent in arboreal snakes, it has seldom been quantified and specific ecomorphs have not been identified. Morphology most often reflects phylogeny, yet morphological divergence may also occur in response to ecological factors such as habitat use and diet. Therefore, a phylogenetic approach is essential for distinguishing between conserved morphologies due to common ancestry and morphological shifts associated with an ecological origin. Patterns of habitat use remain similarly unknown for arboreal snakes, but it is likely that snakes using trees partition the available habitat into structural niches due to the diversity and structural complexity of vegetation and microclimates setup by the trees vertical gradients. If so, these differences may be reflected in snake morphology, as species should be adapted for a particular structural niche, thereby limiting competition with sympatric species. Identifying the patterns of morphological adaptations and/or constraints considered indicative of arboreality will undoubtedly lead to a better understanding of the evolution and distribution of arboreal snakes.