The physiological costs of living in seawater likely influenced the secondary evolutionary transitions to marine life in tetrapods. However, these costs are alleviated for species that commute between the land and the sea, because terrestrial habitats can provide frequent access to fresh water. Here, we investigate how differences in the ecology and physiology of three sea krait species (Laticauda spp.) interact to determine their environmental tolerances and geographic distributions. These three species vary in their relative use of terrestrial versus marine environments, and they display concomitant adaptations to life on land versus at sea. A species with relatively high dehydration rates in seawater (Laticauda colubrina) occupied oceanic areas with low mean salinities, whereas a species with comparatively high rates of transcutaneous evaporative water loss on land (Laticauda semifasciata) occupied regions with low mean temperatures. A third taxon (Laticauda laticaudata) was intermediate in both of these traits, and yet occupied the broadest geographic range. Our results suggest that the abilities of sea kraits to acquire fresh water on land and tolerate dehydration at sea determine their environmental tolerances and geographic distributions. This finding supports the notion that speciation patterns within sea kraits have been driven by interspecific variation in the degree of reliance upon terrestrial versus marine habitats. Future studies could usefully examine the effects of osmotic challenges on diversification rates in other secondarily marine tetrapod species.
- marine tetrapods
- sea snakes