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  1. The gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of vertebrates contains a series of organs beginning with the mouth and ending with the anus or cloacal opening. Each organ represents a unique environment for resident microorganisms. Due to their simple digestive anatomy, snakes are good models for studying microbiome variation along the GIT. Cloacal sampling captures the majority of the microbial diversity found in the GIT of snakes—yet little is known about the oral microbiota of snakes. Most research on the snake mouth and gut microbiota are limited to studies of a single species or captive-bred individuals. It therefore remains unclear how a host’s life history, diet, or evolutionary history correlate with differences in the microbial composition within the mouths and guts of wild snakes. We sampled the mouth and gut microbial communities from three species of Asian venomous snakes and utilized 16S rRNA microbial inventories to test if host phylogenetic and ecological differences correlate with distinct microbial compositions within the two body sites. These species occupy three disparate habitat types: marine, semi-arboreal, and arboreal, our results suggest that the diversity of snake mouth and gut microbial communities correlate with differences in both host ecology and phylogeny.
  2. Ruane, Sara (Ed.)
    Abstract Genome-scale data have the potential to clarify phylogenetic relationships across the tree of life but have also revealed extensive gene tree conflict. This seeming paradox, whereby larger data sets both increase statistical confidence and uncover significant discordance, suggests that understanding sources of conflict is important for accurate reconstruction of evolutionary history. We explore this paradox in squamate reptiles, the vertebrate clade comprising lizards, snakes, and amphisbaenians. We collected an average of 5103 loci for 91 species of squamates that span higher-level diversity within the clade, which we augmented with publicly available sequences for an additional 17 taxa. Using a locus-by-locus approach, we evaluated support for alternative topologies at 17 contentious nodes in the phylogeny. We identified shared properties of conflicting loci, finding that rate and compositional heterogeneity drives discordance between gene trees and species tree and that conflicting loci rarely overlap across contentious nodes. Finally, by comparing our tests of nodal conflict to previous phylogenomic studies, we confidently resolve 9 of the 17 problematic nodes. We suggest this locus-by-locus and node-by-node approach can build consensus on which topological resolutions remain uncertain in phylogenomic studies of other contentious groups. [Anchored hybrid enrichment (AHE); gene tree conflict; molecular evolution; phylogenomic concordance;more »target capture; ultraconserved elements (UCE).]« less
  3. Ontogenetic shifts in venom occur in many snakes but establishing their nature as gradual or discrete processes required additional study. We profiled shifts in venom expression from the neonate to adult sizes of two rattlesnake species, the eastern diamondback and the timber rattlesnake. We used serial sampling and venom chromatographic profiling to test if ontogenetic change occurs gradually or discretely. We found evidence for gradual shifts in overall venom composition in six of eight snakes, which sometimes spanned more than two years. Most chromatographic peaks shift gradually, but one quarter shift in a discrete fashion. Analysis of published diet data showed gradual shifts in overall diet composition across the range of body sizes attained by our eight study animals, while the shifts in abundance of different prey classes varied in form from gradual to discrete. Testosterone concentrations were correlated with the change in venom protein composition, but the relationship is not strong enough to suggest causation. Venom research employing simple juvenile versus adult size thresholds may be failing to account for continuous variation in venom composition lifespan. Our results imply that venom shifts represent adaptive matches to dietary shifts and highlight venom for studies of alternative gene regulatory mechanisms.
  4. Variation in gene regulation is ubiquitous, yet identifying the mechanisms producing such variation, especially for complex traits, is challenging. Snake venoms provide a model system for studying the phenotypic impacts of regulatory variation in complex traits because of their genetic tractability. Here, we sequence the genome of the Tiger Rattlesnake, which possesses the simplest and most toxic venom of any rattlesnake species, to determine whether the simple venom phenotype is the result of a simple genotype through gene loss or a complex genotype mediated through regulatory mechanisms. We generate the most contiguous snake-genome assembly to date and use this genome to show that gene loss, chromatin accessibility, and methylation levels all contribute to the production of the simplest, most toxic rattlesnake venom. We provide the most complete characterization of the venom gene-regulatory network to date and identify key mechanisms mediating phenotypic variation across a polygenic regulatory network.

  5. The role of natural selection in the evolution of trait complexity can be characterized by testing hypothesized links between complex forms and their functions across species. Predatory venoms are composed of multiple proteins that collectively function to incapacitate prey. Venom complexity fluctuates over evolutionary timescales, with apparent increases and decreases in complexity, and yet the causes of this variation are unclear. We tested alternative hypotheses linking venom complexity and ecological sources of selection from diet in the largest clade of front-fanged venomous snakes in North America: the rattlesnakes, copperheads, cantils, and cottonmouths. We generated independent transcriptomic and proteomic measures of venom complexity and collated several natural history studies to quantify dietary variation. We then constructed genome-scale phylogenies for these snakes for comparative analyses. Strikingly, prey phylogenetic diversity was more strongly correlated to venom complexity than was overall prey species diversity, specifically implicating prey species’ divergence, rather than the number of lineages alone, in the evolution of complexity. Prey phylogenetic diversity further predicted transcriptomic complexity of three of the four largest gene families in viper venom, showing that complexity evolution is a concerted response among many independent gene families. We suggest that the phylogenetic diversity of prey measures functionally relevant divergencemore »in the targets of venom, a claim supported by sequence diversity in the coagulation cascade targets of venom. Our results support the general concept that the diversity of species in an ecological community is more important than their overall number in determining evolutionary patterns in predator trait complexity.

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  6. Abstract

    Theory predicts that sexually dimorphic traits under strong sexual selection, particularly those involved with intersexual signaling, can accelerate speciation and produce bursts of diversification. Sexual dichromatism (sexual dimorphism in color) is widely used as a proxy for sexual selection and is associated with rapid diversification in several animal groups, yet studies using phylogenetic comparative methods to explicitly test for an association between sexual dichromatism and diversification have produced conflicting results. Sexual dichromatism is rare in frogs, but it is both striking and prevalent in African reed frogs, a major component of the diverse frog radiation termed Afrobatrachia. In contrast to most other vertebrates, reed frogs display female-biased dichromatism in which females undergo color transformation, often resulting in more ornate coloration in females than in males. We produce a robust phylogeny of Afrobatrachia to investigate the evolutionary origins of sexual dichromatism in this radiation and examine whether the presence of dichromatism is associated with increased rates of net diversification. We find that sexual dichromatism evolved once within hyperoliids and was followed by numerous independent reversals to monochromatism. We detect significant diversification rate heterogeneity in Afrobatrachia and find that sexually dichromatic lineages have double the average net diversification rate of monochromaticmore »lineages. By conducting trait simulations on our empirical phylogeny, we demonstrate that our inference of trait-dependent diversification is robust. Although sexual dichromatism in hyperoliid frogs is linked to their rapid diversification and supports macroevolutionary predictions of speciation by sexual selection, the function of dichromatism in reed frogs remains unclear. We propose that reed frogs are a compelling system for studying the roles of natural and sexual selection on the evolution of sexual dichromatism across micro- and macroevolutionary timescales.

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